Trafficking and exploitation strategy: fourth annual progress report - 2020 to 2021

Report setting out progress implementing the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy from 2020 to 2021.

Section 2

Action Area 2 – Identify perpetrators and disrupt their activity

Action Area 2 focuses on the identification of perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation with the intention of disrupting their criminal activity. Key areas of focus include contributing to the successful development of a duty to notify process for public bodies, the development of local, national and international intelligence sharing and utilising all available powers at the disposal of prosecuting authorities to bring offenders to justice.

In 2020 Action Area 2 membership was split into strategic and tactical groups to more effectively deliver key work streams. The strategic partners group includes representatives from:

  • Border Force
  • British Transport Police (BTP)
  • Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA)
  • Glasgow City Council Health and Social Care Partnership
  • Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • Home Office Immigration Enforcement (HOIE)
  • Justice and Care
  • Migrant Help
  • National Crime Agency (NCA)
  • Police Scotland
  • Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC)
  • Scottish Government (human trafficking policy, organised crime policy and Marine Scotland)
  • Scottish Prison Service (SPS)
  • Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA)

The group has continued to meet by video conference throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, taking a partnership approach with member agencies as well as sharing information on current trends and enforcement. The group directs action to ensure a consistency of approach across Scotland for enforcement agencies, third sector bodies and support organisations to ensure the strategic aims of Action Area 2 are met.

"Thank you so much for helping not only me but my entire family, you've done so much for me. I will remember that you taught me to live in the present moment. I now notice so many organisations that have helped me, I've had so much support."

The Police Scotland tactical group (including BTP) is made up of the National Human Trafficking Unit, Divisional Human Trafficking Champions from enforcement agencies including Ports and Borders, National Human Trafficking Threat Desk, Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism Unit and the Senior Investigating Officers of large scale human trafficking investigations. They lead investigations, raise awareness of human trafficking and exploitation and develop local partnership working. They are supported through specialist training and interactive forums to ensure a robust and consistent national approach. The tactical group advise the strategic group on current trends and enforcement action.

Looking back

The reporting year proved challenging for Action Area 2 with changes in working practices as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions. Engagement between partners was recognised as a priority at the outset of the pandemic to tackle increased risks as visibility in the community and legitimate work opportunities decreased. Monthly briefings, including information and organisational learning from Action Area 2 partners and champions, are published and distributed to the group. The briefings were devised at the beginning of the pandemic as a method of drawing together resources in terms of intelligence and information on the rapidly evolving situation and as a means of communicating intelligence requirements to inform a joined-up response to identifying victims and pursuing perpetrators.

Key outcome: public bodies and others report concerns appropriately

Section 38 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 places a duty on specified public bodies to notify the Chief Constable of Police Scotland about a person who is, or appears to be, the victim of human trafficking or of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Once in force, it will allow for the collation and processing of wider information about trafficking activity in Scotland not currently collected through the NRM or the criminal justice system. The implementation of section 38 has been delayed due to the ongoing response to COVID-19 and the continuing impact on public services.

The heads of the prosecuting authorities in the UK are committed to improving collaboration and sharing best practice. In September 2020 and October 2021, in furtherance of the commitments signed by the Lord Advocate and the other heads of UK prosecuting authorities in 2016, prosecutors from Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales met to discuss current issues using video conferencing technology. COPFS has maintained its internal structure of local lead human trafficking prosecutors and has updated guidance for prosecutors where appropriate.

The National Human Trafficking Unit (NHTU) was created within Police Scotland to provide an overview of human trafficking and to manage NRM's allocated for investigation in Scotland. The Unit supports divisional activity, engages regularly with partners in terms of the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy and develops policy and strategy in this area. The NHTU has enhanced its investigative capability and now comprises a number of dedicated officers, including a detective chief inspector, two detective inspectors, four detective sergeants and ten detective constables. A dedicated human trafficking unit has also been established within Greater Glasgow Division.

Additional officers are seconded to assist and bring specialist skills to particular investigations as required. This has included police officers with linguistic skills, intelligence analysts, cybercrime and financial specialists. The NHTU forms part of the Public Protection Command, Specialist Crime Division and supports police officers, specialist investigators and a network of Human Trafficking Champions located across the 13 territorial policing divisions in Scotland. This structure feeds into the Action Area 2 Tactical Partners Group and supports a localised threat and intelligence led response to human trafficking and exploitation across Scotland.

Over 80% of all Police Scotland officers have completed online human trafficking training and a number of specialist trained officers support the network of over 40 human trafficking champions throughout Scotland. Awareness raising is an ongoing process with training delivered to probationary constables, newly promoted sergeants, senior investigating officers, advanced detective officers and sexual offences liaison officers. The training is augmented by messages on Police Scotland's intranet site available to all officers and staff along with a dedicated web page of information, guidance and access to the digital NRM platform.

Awareness raising in the reporting period proved challenging due to COVID-19 restrictions; however, this was mitigated by the use of technology. Online meeting platforms and webinars allowed delivery of presentations to a wide audience including universities, businesses, local authority staff, third sector and national and international partners. Audiences were targeted in response to specific threat assessments. This ensured the profile of human trafficking in Scotland was maintained and increased the number of human trafficking calls to Police Scotland by 62% in 2020 compared to 2019. Businesses were also contacted directly to make them aware of the threat of human trafficking, particularly during challenging operating conditions, increasing their resilience to the recruitment of exploited labour within their supply chains.

Police Scotland media campaigns and news releases promote the use of the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline[10] to businesses and members of the public as a reporting mechanism for concerns about human trafficking and exploitation. More information on Police Scotland's 2021 national media campaign see "Break the Chain".

Human trafficking and exploitation was also highlighted through the development of national, local and social multi-media releases to coincide with Anti-Slavery Day on 18 October 2020 and the 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence between 25 November and 10 December 2020. Police Scotland's 2020 National Human Trafficking conference was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions. It is anticipated the conference will be rescheduled for autumn 2022.

In partnership with the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline, Police Scotland provided officers with access to the Unseen App[11] via their mobile devices from Anti-Slavery Day 2021 on Monday 18 October. The App will support officers when they suspect someone may be a victim of human trafficking or exploitation, providing guidance on the indicators of human trafficking, outline the various types of exploitation and ultimately make it easier for officers to identify potential victims.

Police Scotland worked closely with partners in Action Area 1 to develop and publish a NRM toolkit to support First Responders, enabling improved victim engagement and trauma-informed information gathering from Potential Victims of Human Trafficking (PVoT). More information can be found at Section 1.

Significant action has been taken to tackle County Lines and raise awareness among officers and staff of the potential for trafficking and exploitation offences against vulnerable people including cuckooing and drugs supply. Monthly intelligence summaries are published and circulated amongst Divisional County Lines Champions, human trafficking updates are provided to the bi-monthly County Lines meetings held across Police Scotland, bespoke training is provided to specialist officers, the County Lines Coordinators and Analysts assess and manage all intelligence related to County Lines to ensure a proactive and appropriate response. Enforcement intensification periods have also taken place over the last year.

"I mean really I've got no complaints on my part. I loved the whole co-ordination of everything. You did a really good job of putting me back on my feet. It is a really good service you provide."

The NHTU forms part of the UK Modern Slavery and Organised Immigration Crime (MSOIC) Unit which focuses on intelligence sharing and directed activity tackling and disrupting the activities of organised crime groups, responsible for Organised Immigration Crime (OIC). The NHTU, as part of a UK wide effort to standardise the response to an OIC incident, is developing a response plan with internal and external partners.

Key outcome: intelligence is shared so that local areas and/or other countries are aware of patterns

Following the application of COVID-19 restrictions, Police Scotland closely scrutinised trends in the number and characteristics of NRMs to ensure an appropriate and effective response. The number of individuals entering the NRM fell by over 50% in the early stages of the pandemic which coincided with threat assessments from the Modern Slavery Police Transformation Unit (now the Modern Slavery Organised Immigration Crime Unit) and Human Trafficking Threat Desk that a combination of factors including COVID-19 restrictions and the UK leaving the European Union would effectively make victims of trafficking less visible. Threat assessments also identified that organised crime groups may diversify their activity and move into labour exploitation within agriculture, food processing and fishing as traditional industries such as nail bars and car washes closed.

To mitigate the threat, risk and harm, Police Scotland's response included:

  • External communications via the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) to those businesses involved in food supply/ delivery and retail chains reminding them of the importance to undertake due diligence when hiring workers or agency staff and recognise the signs of potential trafficking or exploitation; the SBRC reached an audience of businesses with a combined staff of around 1.4 million;
  • Liaison with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to seek information/intelligence in respect of the impact of COVID-19 on Potential Victims of Trafficking (PVoT) involved in labour exploitation and to consider concerns raised over potential exploitation stemming from the use of recruitment agencies without adequate oversight and due diligence checks due to the speed and nature of resourcing needs;
  • Daily liaison with Border Force and Home Office Immigration Enforcement to assess change in travel numbers/ trends entering Scotland and the wider UK from source countries;
  • Operation ENCOUNTER – a daily assessment by the Human Trafficking Threat Desk of available intelligence submitted via the Scottish Intelligence Database;
  • Regular liaison with the National Crime Agency to understand the current situation in the wider UK and international developments to inform the current threat;
  • Liaison with divisional Human Trafficking Champions requesting proactive work undertaken locally to widen intelligence gathering;
  • Liaison with support services including TARA and Migrant Help to utilise their involvement with PVoT within the NRM process;
  • Establish from local authorities and Environmental Health Teams information available regarding houses of multiple occupancy; COSLA distributed a briefing produced by Police Scotland to the Chief Executives of all local authorities, with subsequent dissemination to Housing Officers;
  • Engagement with Police Scotland Safer Communities (now Partnerships, Prevention & Community Wellbeing Division) to ensure awareness within homeless services and charities of the potential for PVoT using their services;
  • Engagement with Rural Community Policing Teams, including tasking them with visiting businesses to ensure COVID-19 guideline compliance, ascertain their knowledge and assist with intelligence requirements;
  • Request via appropriate landlords associations information on occupancies and knowledge of what their premises are being used for;
  • Regular distribution of the fortnightly Partners COVID-19 briefing; and
  • Execute Operation PERCEPTIVE which directly targeted labour exploitation in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. Officers visited over 50 premises, covering more than 5,000 staff, gathering information on 26 gangmasters to seek out PVoT and potential exploiters. Three follow-up multi-agency visits in association with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority resulted. The visits also served to improve the intelligence picture around labour requirements, sourcing and human trafficking indicators.

The range of actions outlined helped to maintain the profile of human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland and informed the collective response to the unfolding situation.

Referrals received by Police Scotland in 2020 from contacts to the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline decreased by 20% in comparison to 2019. However, those contacts that were received added significantly to the picture of human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland during the pandemic and resulted in a number of inquiries into labour exploitation in the farming and food production industries and sexual exploitation for the purposes of prostitution.

Police Scotland has continued to encourage investigating officers to consider Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders (TEPOs) or Trafficking and Exploitation Risk Orders (TEROs) where appropriate and where legal thresholds have been met. Delays within the criminal justice system over the past year due to COVID-19 have proved challenging; however, there are a number of TEROs currently under consideration for human trafficking-related operations.

Action Area 2 has detected emerging threats and identified crime trends for human trafficking and exploitation using the following methods:

  • NRM;
  • National Human Trafficking Threat Desk Monthly threat assessments;
  • Monitoring of specific contact and control (STORM) codes for emergency and non-emergency calls to Police Scotland;
  • Calls to the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline; and
  • Participation with, and analysis from, the Modern Slavery Organised Immigration Crime Unit Joint Slavery and Trafficking Analysis Centre.

Action Area 2 joint operations have included five Project AIDANT enforcement intensification periods led by the NCA. Project AIDANT activity in Scotland in 2020 saw 20 PVoTs identified, 5 NRM's submitted, 146 sites/premises investigated, 8 arrests and 6 new investigations instigated. Themes during the reporting period included:

  • Labour Exploitation;
  • Child Trafficking; and
  • Criminal finances linked to modern slavery and human trafficking.

Three further joint operations are planned for 2021/22 with the themes of:

  • Child Trafficking;
  • Sexual Exploitation; and
  • Illicit Finances.

Operation BEAR

Police Scotland has continued to pursue the perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation across national and international boundaries, including through several joint investigation teams (JIT) with other European Law Enforcement agencies and Europol. A recent example of this is Operation BEAR, a complex major enquiry targeting sexual exploitation for prostitution of Romanian females, involving a joint investigation team (JIT) with Romanian Law Enforcement Authorities and Europol. This tackled a serious and organised crime group who were operating in Scotland, England and Romania.

On 9 September 2020 a coordinated executive day of action in Romania, Scotland and England resulted in the arrest of 27 Romanian nationals. Romanian and Scottish prosecutors have agreed that all accused will now be prosecuted in Romania.

During the investigation in excess of 30 PVoT were identified throughout Europe. Despite COVID-19 interrupting the secondment of Romanian officers to Police Scotland, cooperation has continued and been strengthened by participation in JITs such as Operation BEAR and other ongoing investigations into the trafficking of Romanian nationals for sexual and labour exploitation.

Since 2014, Vietnamese nationals have been the largest nationality grouping within the NRM in Scotland. Although impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, Vietnamese PVoT accounted for 24% of all NRMs received in 2020.

Following detailed discussions between Police Scotland, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Home Office (HO), National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security over an 18-month period, two Vietnamese officers from the Ministry of Public Security were seconded to Police Scotland in October 2020 for a period of 6 months. The secondment built upon the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and Vietnam on human trafficking to enable greater collaboration around supporting victims, intelligence sharing and prevention work. The secondment became increasingly significant following the deaths of 39 Vietnamese nationals in Grays, Essex, in October 2019.

"I am so glad that I was able to be able to be part of your support system, I have enjoyed, I have learnt a lot and thank you. We have felt loved and appreciated, how I wish this would have continued. I will miss all of your great team. Thanking you once more. God bless you and take care."

Despite a number of challenges, including COVID-19 restrictions which limited opportunities for the officers to travel and engage with other law enforcement professionals, the insight into Vietnamese culture, travel and migration patterns that the officers provided has proven invaluable. The initiative provoked enquiries from many sources including media, third sector partners, statutory bodies, local authority elected members and Members of Parliament around planning for the secondment and deployment of the officers. The secondment provided Police Scotland with a unique learning experience and provides opportunities for further such exchanges in the future.

Over the reporting period the GLAA have continued to receive a steady number of referrals both via the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline and directly to their own confidential reporting line. In response to this, a number of visits have been undertaken throughout Scotland, focusing on allegations of labour exploitation and worker welfare. In addition, two LMEU's (Labour Market Enforcement Undertakings) and six Enforcement Notices in relation to unlicensed trading have been issued.

GLAA engagement on shellfish gathering

Over the last year the GLAA has seen a significant increase in the number of reports regarding shellfish gathering in the UK. These reports not only suggested an increase in gathering activity but also unsafe working practices and potential exploitation within the sector.

In response, and consistent with the objectives of Project Aidant, the GLAA worked with partner agencies to increase awareness of human trafficking and encourage engagement from gatherers and members of the public. High visibility patrols by GLAA officers, Police Scotland, East Lothian Council and Fife Council were conducted over a single weekend and more than 50 gatherers were spoken with.

All were handed leaflets outlining their employment rights and how to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking. They were also given guidance on the amount of shellfish they could collect from the sands for their own personal use.

While no offences were identified during the activity, the operation successfully focused on the welfare of the workers encountered by the teams. In addition to speaking to the gatherers, there was positive engagement with local residents who were keen to help ensure that their neighbourhoods remain free from exploitation and dangerous working practices.

The GLAA have also launched a Scotland specific section within their website.[12] This highlights the way the GLAA works within Scotland and signposts users to the various partners and support services who operate within Scotland. The GLAA is committed to protecting vulnerable and exploited workers and continues to look for opportunities to work alongside partners to achieve this common goal.

HMRC resources have been reallocated to COVID-19 support schemes and to revenue collection, which has resulted in a reduced operational focus on trafficking in the reporting period. However, labour exploitation remains a major issue in specific sectors, including restaurants/ takeaways, car washes, construction, agriculture/fisheries and beauty (nail bars). Labour exploitation can impact on the correct assessment of a range of income and business taxes as well as national minimum wage compliance.

Accordingly, HMRC will continue to support joint operational activity with law enforcement partners where an HMRC risk has been identified and where capacity allows. HMRC intelligence and data will be shared with partners to support their wider objectives and specific operations, legal gateways permitting. HMRC will continue through an organised taskforce programme to target specific trade sectors involving labour exploitation and trafficking risks.

Key outcome: police, prosecutors and courts use all powers and take robust action as appropriate

COVID-19 restrictions reduced border movements and the visibility of PVoT, resulting in fewer individuals entering the NRM or reporting crimes recordable in Scotland. A review of compliance with the Scottish Crime Recording Standards also changed the way human trafficking offences are recorded.

There was a 56% reduction in human trafficking related crimes recorded by Police Scotland in 2020 and a similar reduction in the number of immigration related crimes recorded. Despite the fall in recorded crimes, there was a 13% increase in the reporting of sexual exploitation crimes. Over the reporting period, Police Scotland undertook a number of difficult and complex investigations including:

Operation BEAR – a two year investigation into sexual exploitation of Romanian females which resulted in 27 arrests and has been reported to Romanian Law Enforcement authorities for consideration of prosecution in Romania;

  • Operation DROOVE – investigations into drug production offences. Between November and December 2020, 8 Vietnamese males and a female were arrested and 10 PVoT were identified and entered the NRM;
  • Operation BOBFLOAT – in September 2020, two males and a female were arrested in connection with human trafficking for sexual exploitation offences; and
  • Operation CEEMAX – commenced in the autumn of 2020 and saw three Romanian nationals arrested in connection with sexual exploitation for prostitution.

Between implementation of the Human Trafficking & Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 and 31 March 2021, COPFS has received 61 cases from Police Scotland which have included charges in terms of the 2015 Act.

In 35 of those 61 cases, prosecutors have taken action in relation to charges in terms of the 2015 Act. (Action has been taken in respect of other charges in some of the other 26 cases.)

  • In 4 of those 35 cases, 5 individuals have been convicted of charges in terms of the 2015 Act; and
  • In 5 of those 35 cases, the accused person(s) was acquitted of a charge in terms of the 2015 Act.

In total, 9 people have been convicted of relevant offences, as defined in section 16 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, since TEPOs came into effect. Of those individuals, 8 have been made subject to TEPOs.

Looking forward

COVID-19 posed many challenges in pursuing those who perpetrate human trafficking and exploitation crimes. This did not stop enforcement work and there are several ongoing major enquiries relating to trafficking and exploitation including for sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and domestic servitude in Scotland.

As we progress through the pandemic and look to the future, it is hoped to concentrate on those work strands which have necessarily been delayed, including progressing applications of TEPOs and TEROs, developing new ways of working with our international law enforcement and third sector partners, improving victim engagement and advancing Police Scotland's Partner's Intelligence Portal. see Section 4.

The secondment of a Justice and Care Victim Navigator to the NHTU is enabling early contact with PVoT, supporting them through their journey to improve their experience and assist them to engage with the criminal justice process where they wish to do so. The Victim Navigator is also gathering good practice from the network of other Navigators around the UK and disseminating this within Police Scotland. The secondment is enabling the exploration of new ways to engage with potential victims of trafficking.

As noted, a media campaign entitled "Break the Chain" was launched by Police Scotland in March 2021. Early indications are that the campaign has resulted in two major enquiries into labour exploitation including Operation BARRAMUNDI which, through multi- agency joint working, resulted in 4 arrests for labour exploitation of Romanian nationals in farming, with 3 individuals charged with offences under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. Operation BARRAMUNDI is the largest labour exploitation safeguarding operation undertaken by Police Scotland to date and it is hoped that increased reporting of labour exploitation will continue as the campaign messages resonate with the target audience.

Project AIDANT intensification periods will continue to involve multi-agency coordination.



Back to top