Modern slavery is a crime that can take many forms, but it is always designed to be hidden from view. It is not a crime that can be witnessed easily in broad daylight, and often victims are bound as much psychologically as they are physically.
And yet many of the industries that are at high risk of illegal recruitment practices tend to be customer facing. Manual labourers, car washes, nail salons… they all have direct touchpoints with consumers as part of their work. It is therefore even more shocking that modern slavery happens right under our noses as we go about our daily movements.
It’s becoming increasingly publicised that Vietnamese-owned nail bars may be breeding grounds for individuals who are trafficked, underage or kept in abusive conditions, sometimes all three. Several stories have emerged in recent months, including the detention of an illegal Vietnamese worker at a nail salon in Hythe and a series of police raids last December that saw 97 salon owners arrested, of predominantly Vietnamese origin.
The article also states: “A spate of recent cases have also shown how Vietnamese gangs use nail bars as a convenient legal ‘front’ for their activities including prostitution and cannabis cultivation… In the five years to 2013, more than 90 nail salons across England and Wales, owned by people with Vietnamese names, were fined nearly £700,000 for employing illegal immigrants.”
Vietnamese victims of human trafficking to the UK, particularly men, have also been subject to working on illegal cannabis farms in horrendous conditions, one victim surviving on cans of dog food. Another case told of three men forced to sleep on a single mattress and work in a locked building. Workers who often don’t speak English are held against their will and bonded in debt against their slave-masters.
Labour exploitation among Vietnamese nationals has generated significant awareness in the last 2 years, but so many cases are yet undiscovered. Last year, the Immigration Act was introduced, allowing the prosecution of employers who know, or ‘reasonably suspect’, that a staff member is working illegally and does not report it.
As customers of nail bars and salons, we also have a responsibility to discreetly report anything we find suspicious. There is no harm in a business being scrutinised by the authorities to confirm that the business is operating above board, if it might also uncover illegal practices. The only person who loses out in such a scenario is the slave-master.
If you are operating a business or supply chain that carries a risk of modern slavery, please get in touch about our worker voice assessment.