A RECRUITMENT agency which helped bring a major modern slavery network to justice is now warning others how to spot the signs of human exploitation.
Workforce Staffing based on Church Road in Redditch and with branches across Worcestershire, worked closely with West Midlands Police over four years to tackle a Polish gang who trafficked up to 400 people to the region.
The gang, made up of five men and three women, have been collectively jailed for more than 55 years after exploiting vulnerable people with the promise of employment, money and accommodation.
Victims were made to work in squalid conditions for long hours on farms, rubbish recycling centres and turkey gutting factories.
They were housed in vermin-infested properties across the Midlands – often crammed four to a room and fed out-of-date food and paid as little as £20 per week by traffickers who pocketed the bulk of their salaries.
Bank accounts were opened in victims’ names using bogus addresses, but were controlled by the gang-masters.
In 2015 Workforce unwittingly took on trafficker Julianna Chodakowicz, who signed-up dozens of victims while acting as the gang’s ‘insider’.
The Standard understands Chodakowicz worked on a temporary contract before issues on her involvement in the gang’s activity came to light.
Having been alerted, Workforce worked with Police to build a case against her and the rest of the gang, whose trafficking brought in approximately £2million between June 2012 and October 2017.
Joe Alekna, managing director at Workforce Staffing, said: “Hidden worker exploitation is a serious problem for employers who are more at risk when they take on unskilled labour.
“It’s a sad fact that up until four years ago, there was low awareness and limited resources available to help stamp out the problem.”
Branch operations director Trudy Harding said: “Traffickers will often target people who speak little English, and will come into our offices with those people and try and sign them up for work.
“We know how to spot the signs of someone who is being exploited and will always report suspicious activity to the police no matter how insignificant it seems.”
Police now regularly ask Workforce for its help with identifying suspects and victims.
Senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Nick Dale, said: “The ringleaders were clever and manipulative – capable of considerable charm when it suited them when talking to bank staff and employment officials – and ran a sophisticated operation across more than 30 properties.
“They targeted vulnerable Polish nationals…often people in desperate need of money and susceptible to being tricked into coming to the UK.”