I don’t mind admitting that I am an avid fan of the Radio 4 series, the Archers. The current storyline involves the nuclear fallout surrounding one of my favourite characters, Kirsty. She has discovered that she married the leader of a modern slavery gang master Phillip Moss. One by one the families in the village realise that they are complicit in having his building firm to conduct work (including repairs at the church and the Parish Council using the firm to repair the children’s play area). They all felt they were having a good deal as a favour, an act of good neighbourly-ness, not realising that the business was based on not paying those who did the work. The storyline revolves around the modern slaves, “horses” to use the slang who have not been trafficked to the UK from elsewhere – in this storyline they are vulnerable individuals who had been found living on the streets and offered accommodation as a way of hooking them into the exploitation. This clever plot twist needs us all to reflect on the extent to which we truly know who a contractor is using to carry out work and our legal and moral responsibilities to ask questions. In one episode, the vicar gave a sermon on the subject and suggested that when we were being offered low priced goods and services, should we be asking ourselves why those goods and services are priced at that level?

Back in the real world, the issue has also hit the news in that a firm, Leigh Day, have issued legal proceedings against the recycling firm Biffa Waste Services and the employment agency, Smart Solutions who engaged workers from Poland to one of their rubbish sorting sites. Although Biffa paid for the work, their wages were transferred into the bank accounts of organised criminals that had been opened in the names of the employees but which they were actually unable to access. The workers, two men and one woman apparently received around £5 a week cash for their work. West Midlands Police uncovered the criminal gang following a 3 year investigation and have dubbed it as the largest modern slavery ring, believing that around 400 people from Poland were trafficked here to work in farms, poultry factories and recycling centres across the country, working through a number of different agencies. They were promised proper jobs before they left Poland but were housed in sub-standard accommodation and paid as little as 50p an hour. The investigations were triggered when two victims escaped and raised the alarm to the anti-slavery charity, Hope for Justice.

The legal case alleges that companies like Biffa have a duty to prevent modern slavery and the law firm is arguing that if procedures had been in place, the crime would have been identified and prevented.

We have got a training module on modern slavery which is available for you to cascade to your staff to raise awareness of this issue which clearly doesn’t just affect nail bars and car washes. Included in the purchase is the set of slides and notes that go with them which is a cost of £500 plus VAT. We will be running a webinar on this topic shortly, please email: admin@refreshinglawltd.co.uk to express an interest.

Refreshing Law Ltd

15 January 2021