House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
HOME AFFAIRS COmmittee
TUESDAY 29 APRIL 2008
MS CHRISTINE BEDDOE
MR IAN LIVSEY and MR DAVID NIX
MS KATE ROBERTS and MS JENNY MOSS
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 29 April 2008
Keith Vaz, in the Chair
Ms Karen Buck
Mr James Clappison
Mrs Ann Cryer
Mrs Janet Dean
Mr Gary Streeter
Mr David Winnick
Memorandum submitted by POPPY Project
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ms Denise Marshall, Chief Executive, and Ms Anna Johansson, Manager, POPPY Project, gave evidence.
Q50 Chairman: I welcome the witnesses, Ms Johansson and Ms Marshall, to this session of our inquiry into human trafficking. Our inquiry into human trafficking began a few weeks ago and we will be taking evidence from a number of different organisations and we are delighted to have you present today to give evidence to us. I will begin by asking this question and you do not both have to answer all the questions, we are quite happy if just one of you covers the point: what is your estimate of the number of people involved in human trafficking?
Ms Johansson: Because of the illegal nature of trafficking, it is very hard to provide an accurate estimate in terms of the numbers of victims trafficked into the UK. The POPPY Project had, at the end of March 2008, received 925 referrals concerning victims of trafficking. In addition to that, the POPPY Project did a survey in the summer of 2004 where it surveyed women involved in off-street prostitution in London and, as a result of that survey, came to the conclusion that approximately 6,000 women were involved in off-street prostitution, 80% of which were foreign nationals and we believe that a large percentage of that 80% had indeed been trafficked.
Q51 Chairman: You say in your memorandum that there is a lack of co-operation and co-ordination amongst key agencies that prevent organisations like POPPY and indeed Parliament from knowing the true scale of human trafficking. Please, explain why you said that. Which agencies are not co-operating?
Ms Johansson: At the moment, there are no formal mechanisms for that co-operation. Victims may be referred to the POPPY Project without any involvement of law enforcement agencies for example, so individuals may refer victims to the POPPY Project, equally victims may be referred to the UKHTC which the POPPY Project may then not be aware of; victims may be referred to individual police forces or individual immigration teams where they are not identified as victims of trafficking and subsequently no-one will know that that victim of trafficking has been recovered or identified.
Ms Marshall: I would like to add to that. At the moment, 80% of referrals to the POPPY Project come from the UK Borders Agency whereas 13% come from solicitors who represent women in the asylum process. The problem with the UK Borders Agency is that they rely on victims to self-identity and, when you are working with victims of trafficking, the most vulnerable tend not to self-identify, so we know that we lose women because the processes are not in place for accurate identification.
Q52 Chairman: Where do the victims of sex trafficking come from? How many are from within the European Union and how many are from outside?
Ms Marshall: Overall, the top countries that we have worked with are Lithuania, Nigeria, Albania, Thailand and China but, in 2007, that picture changed and the top five countries have become China, Nigeria, Albania, Uganda and Thailand. We think that there is actually a change that has become reflected in where our referrals come from; 42% of the women who have been accommodated by us were of African origin and we are seeing an increased number of women from Africa and Asia; 31% come from the EU, usually from Accession State countries; they are more likely to be from that than the old European countries, but we have supported women from Germany and from Switzerland - the thing about traffickers is that they will exploit women from anywhere regardless of their origin; they will exploit vulnerable women - and 69% of our referrals are non-EU nationals.
Q53 Chairman: Do you find that the way in which women are trafficked from either inside or outside the EU differs according to where they come from, for example the method of travel and the way it is being done?
Ms Johansson: Yes. Predominantly, as they have the right to remain in the UK, EU women tend to travel on their own documents. They are largely deceived as to the purpose of why they are coming here, so they are trafficked by means of deception and then for the purpose of exploitation as well. African women tend to travel here on false documents, both false passports and false visa applications. They are also largely deceived as to the purpose of why they are coming but they may be more involved in the process of obtaining those documents. In terms of other European countries that are non-EU, women tend to be trafficked through coercion and deception, so that may involve smuggling in the back of a lorry or similar methods.
Q54 Mr Clappison: Congratulations on the work that you are doing. On this point which you are just making, putting to one side the EU nationals who can come here under their own steam, in many but not all, of the countries which you mentioned which are outside Europe a visa is required in order to get into this country. Several years ago, myself and one or two members of the Committee went to Nigeria and we were told about the visa issuing process there and how strict it was, all the checks which were made against false documentation for example, but you are telling us that you see a lot of false documentation and visas which are obtained improperly. Are you able to feed back what you learned about this to the authorities in any way?
Ms Johansson: All of the women who come to the POPPY Project who choose to remain with the POPPY Project for longer then 30 days do have to co-operate with the authorities, whether that is through the intelligence-giving route or whether giving a formal statement and testifying which is up to the individual woman. All of that information would be available to the authorities. One of the problems we have is that there is a lack of capacity to deal with these cases because they are very complex and a lot of that information is not necessarily captured or, even if it is captured, it does not necessarily progress to the second level.
Q55 Mr Clappison: They have actually been issued with visas in many cases, for example the women from Nigeria?
Ms Johansson: Yes.
Q56 Bob Russell: I understand that you are a London-based organisation. Are there major problems with trafficking in the sex trade about which you are aware in other parts of the country?
Ms Marshall: Yes. We are a London-based organisation but we take referrals nationally because, after we started the project, we had to; there was nobody else doing it at that time. We find that we get referrals from all major cities, so from Birmingham, Glasgow, Sheffield, Manchester and from Liverpool. Where you have off-street prostitution, you are very likely to have trafficked women. So, we accommodate women who come to us from all over the country.
Q57 Bob Russell: Although you are based in London, do you actually operate outside or do they come to you? What I am getting at is whether there is a need for your organisation to have branches in different parts of the country.
Ms Marshall: There is a need for there to be trafficking projects outside of London, but you also have to be quite careful because, if you take somebody from a relatively smaller town, what you can do is run the risk of them being identified. We do need projects outside of London but we also need to have reciprocal arrangements in order that women can be moved to safety. For example, if you have a woman in Liverpool who may have worked in a number of brothels in Liverpool, it may be easier to accommodate her in London and vice-versa in that it may be safer to take someone who has maybe been trafficked and working in London for a number of years out of London. There is a need nationally for accommodation and support projects.
Q58 Bob Russell: Are there clear regional differences? You mentioned big cities but I think that you also made reference to small towns. How widespread is it in the smaller towns in the United Kingdom?
Ms Marshall: In 2004, we received a referral where women had been found in a house in Worthing in East Sussex, which is a very small town; I think it is a neighbour to Brighton. It is not somewhere that you would necessarily have identified as a hot spot for trafficking but a number of Ugandan women were found in a house in Worthing. Again, where there is demand, traffickers will seek to supply and, where there is off-street prostitution, traffickers will be present.
Q59 Bob Russell: You made reference to demand. Are you aware that local newspapers with somewhat dubious advertisements are helping to fuel that demand?
Ms Marshall: I am aware that that is the case and I think that is absolutely right and they will identify women of particular ethnic origins in those papers. However, I have to say that the Government's Job Centre also now advertise websites for strippers and lap dancers. They do not require you to see the Job Seekers' Assistant. You can go into the Job Centre, look on the computer and find those jobs there. So, yes, newspapers do but also Government Job Centres.
Q60 Mr Streeter: On that last point, are you aware of anyone who has actually been lured into prostitution through a Job Centre advertisement of that kind?
Ms Marshall: Since we started advertising in our weekly newsletter, we have had contact from two 17-year olds who had gone into a Job Centre and, because they were not on the job seeker's allowance, accessed the computer and it brought up a number of job vacancies. They did not contact us but a mother and an older sister contacted us because they were so distressed that this had happened. Unfortunately, because nobody is monitoring this, we do not know who is using it. What we do know is that when you are offering £20 an hour for a webcam stripper rather than £6 or whatever the minimum wage is, if you are 17, the chances are that you may be naïve.
Q61 Mr Streeter: The Serious Organised Crime Agency told us that certain types of crime are prevalent amongst criminals from certain countries of origin. Do you have any idea as to which criminal gangs are involved in which types of human trafficking? Does it break down by country of origin?
Ms Johansson: It does to a certain extent. It is true to say that women tend to be recruited by people of the same national origin. For example, Nigerian women tend to be recruited by Nigerian traffickers and Albanian women tend to be recruited by Albanian traffickers. In terms of the sex industry in the UK, the experience of the POPPY Project is that the main gangs that operate are Albanian, Lithuanian, Russian as well as Chinese.
Q62 Gwyn Prosser: We understand that at present experienced NGOs like POPPY do not play a formal role in victim identification. Would you tell us where you would want to see your role expanded.
Ms Johansson: It is essential that the NGOs sit at the heart of any identification process whether that is the national referral mechanism as under the Council of Europe Convention or any sort of identification process partly because the NGO will have different expertise and different experience from law enforcement agencies and will encourage victims who have had difficult experiences with law enforcement agencies to come forward and that not only includes women who have had difficult experiences in their country of origin but also women who may have been charged with offences or treated as immigration offenders in this country. In terms of how we would see that national referral mechanism ideally to work would be a multi-agency independent mechanism where expertise from different backgrounds and different fields would be represented, so there would be law enforcement as well as expertise from sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, mental health and medical authorities to together provide that expertise in order to identify victims swiftly but also to ensure that victims were afforded the proper care and the proper support afterwards. In the recent Pentameter 2 operation, there was a trial of a national referral mechanism and it is our experience that the majority of the cases that were referred to the designated competent authorities - there were trials, BIA and the UKHTC respectively - by NGOs and the majority of the decisions that were made in terms of whether someone was a credible victim of trafficking or not was taken on the basis of the information provided by NGOs, so not on the information provided by law enforcement. I think that demonstrates the need for NGOs to be a part of that process.
Ms Marshall: I think that for us it is very important. We accept as an NGO that our role is victim care. There are overlaps obviously for police intelligence, but we think that there has to be a recognition. The police are there to police; immigration are there to deal with immigration. We need a body that is independent which can actually act as a neutral body that works with all of the agencies. We think that that is absolutely vital.
Q63 Gwyn Prosser: I agree with you. Under the present arrangements, are you able to tell us to what extent people you have identified in your view to be clearly victims are not accepted as such by the authorities?
Ms Johansson: The numbers that were trialled during Pentameter 2 were fairly small. Only 47 women were referred to the POPPY Project during Pentameter 2, full stop. Only a number of these were referred to the national referral mechanism for various reasons. Some of them wanted to return immediately, so there was no need for them to be referred to the NRM. I am only aware of one case where the opinions differed and that was a case whereby it was accepted that the victim was a victim of trafficking but it was not seen that she needed any further reflection delay because she had already been out of her trafficking situation for a number of months. So, in all other cases, the assessment that was made by the POPPY Project was accepted by the competent authority.
Q64 Margaret Moran: In your submissions, you have said that a high percentage of asylum cases are accepted. Would you elaborate on that and explain that to us. Why are asylum cases not being made at the outset and what do you think could be done in terms of the asylum process that would improve the whole situation?
Ms Johansson: The majority of women who come to the POPPY Project who do not want to return to their country of origin do make an asylum application at the onset of that support. They are actually making the asylum application as early as they have the opportunity to. It is important to remember that all of the women who are being trafficked are often in a situation where they are not able to seek that protection and they are also not aware of their options in terms of claiming asylum. I think that they do seek asylum at the earliest opportunity and it is important to recognise that. Our experience is that very few, if any, cases are actually accepted at that initial decision level. That is the same for the old system as it is for the new asylum model. Very few cases are actually accepted as having any grounds under the Refugee Convention or under the humanitarian protection framework. That means that the majority of the women would go on to appeal those cases and are successful at appeal. Roughly 80% of the women supported by the POPPY Project have been successful at appeal and have either been awarded indefinite leave to remain as a refugee or humanitarian protection. I think that that goes to show that there is a problem with initial decision making but also I think that there is a problem in terms of those cases that are successful are not established as guidance cases and are not established as case law, so new victims of trafficking who make new asylum claims are not able to rely on those successful decisions in the past which means that initial decision making continues to be poor.
Q65 Mr Winnick: Your memorandum states that there is no automatic right for those who are victims of this vile trade to remain in the United Kingdom, even if they have provided you. So you write in your memorandum, with substantial information and agreed to testify against the perpetrators. The Home Office no doubt would take the view that to give an automatic right would be a loophole in the immigration rules but presumably you disagree with that.
Ms Marshall: I would like to say a couple of things about that. First of all, one of the things about POPPY and women who come to our project is, if you just wanted to be an illegal worker in this country, the worst thing you could do is come to the POPPY Project because it actually just brings you slap bang to the attention of both the police and the immigration authorities. It would be much easier to disappear and not be found. Secondly, the experience of anti-trafficking agencies that work in Italy is that women do not throw themselves into prostitution in order to stay in Italy. That has not been the case. They have a social path where women can stay in that country and it has not been the case. The women with whom we have worked who go to court and who work with the police are incredibly brave. They do not know in the end whether they are going to be able to stay in this country; they do jeopardise their safety and the safety of their families at home by giving evidence and by going through the court case. We simply do not think that allowing these women to stay in this country will cause a rise in numbers. That has not been the experience in Italy.
Q66 Mr Winnick: I understand that but clearly that is not the view of the Home Office otherwise there would be the sort of reaction and response that you would like.
Ms Marshall: To be honest, when we first started the project back in 2001, we were told that having the POPPY Project would open the floodgates and that thousands of women would come flooding in. That has not been the case. There is growth but actually it has not caused the floodgates to open. I cannot speak for the Home Office; I simply think that they are wrong.
Q67 Mr Winnick: Do I take it that you are in negotiations with the Home Office to see whether they will modify their policy?
Ms Marshall: We are in constant negotiation with the Home Office.
Q68 Mr Winnick: You also state in the memorandum that deportation of victims invariably leads to re-trafficking and you have plenty of evidence along those lines. So, once they are deported or they leave the United Kingdom, they simply become victims of these gangsters again.
Ms Johansson: That is the case because there are no support mechanisms in place to receive women who are removed or deported, which means that those initial conditions that made them vulnerable to trafficking are still very much out there, whether that is poverty, unemployment, lack of employment options, lack of training, civil conflict, lack of family support or whatever there is, those factors are still relevant whereas, if a voluntary return can be organised through, for example, the POPPY Project or similar agencies, we will ensure that someone is at the receiving end to support that person, to accommodate that person and to continue with counselling and medical assistance with reintegration programmes. I also think that we need to recognise that there are certain countries where it is not realistic to say that that is going to happen either through lack of available protection and support in those countries or because the support and protection is so short term that it is not really beneficial to any victims. In those cases, I think that removal is highly inappropriate, does not take account of the risks that these victims face and will inevitably lead to them being re-trafficked. We did state in our submission that 21% of the women we have supported have been re-trafficked and that includes women who have returned to their country of origin sometimes after having been removed from the UK who have then been identified very quickly and re-trafficked back into the UK.
Mr Winnick: I certainly admire the work that you do and I am sure that it is much appreciated by the victims.
Q69 Chairman: Of the 21%, is it a particular country that we have a major problem in rerouting or is it just generally that, when they are deported, they will find their way back in?
Ms Johansson: It is generally. I think that it is a reflection of the various countries that are represented in that.
Q70 Mrs Cryer: You have drawn a fairly negative comparison between the treatment given to trafficked women between Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands and the sort of treatment that they receive here. What are you saying the difference is between how they are treated here and how they are treated in those countries?
Ms Marshall: In Italy, there are two options - there is the legal route where legal redress is sought and cases are brought to court and traffickers face trial, but there is also the social route which is an understanding that some women may not be able to go down that route in that the intelligence they can offer or the evidence that they have to give is not sufficient to warrant a trial - which means that there is an understanding of women as victims rather than looking upon them as witnesses or migrant workers. In terms of the Netherlands and Belgium, they have been doing that work for a great deal longer than the UK has. I do not think that they are without problems, however. For example, one of the good things about the UK is that women may apply for asylum whereas that is not the case in the Netherlands. There have been cases where women have been through long court cases, one that lasted for four years and, at the end of that court case, the woman was simply removed and sent back to her country of origin. In the UK, we do at least have the opportunity to make a claim for asylum and I do think that that is better but I think that there are more services in the Netherlands and that there are more services in Belgium and we do need more. We do have a great problem with trafficking because there is so much profit to be made from it.
Ms Johansson: I also think it is essential if the framework from the Council of Europe Convention is brought in that there are several routes, after the victim has had their reflection delays lined out in the Convention, to being granted temporary or preferably permanent residence in the UK and that the route does not just go through law enforcement, it also goes through a humanitarian route that takes into account someone who might be severely traumatised and has had very extensive experiences of abuse, repeated abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse, so that the only route to remaining here is not just through testifying but also the recognition that this is someone who has been a victim of crime in the UK who would not necessarily be here if it was not for the demand that is present in the UK that is fuelling the sex industry and the trafficking.
Q71 Mrs Dean: You mentioned earlier the situation outside of London but are there any other support services in other parts of the country and, if so, what are they?
Ms Marshall: There is CHASTE, which is Churches against Sexual Trafficking and Exploitation, which is a coalition of faith-based organisations that have been offering support and accommodation. We have also been working with women's aid groups to try to set up structures to provide refuge accommodation and support.
Ms Johansson: In Scotland, there is the TARA Project that provides similar services to the POPPY Project along similar guidelines. Although there are some groups, either refugee groups or women's groups, that provide support to victims of trafficking because victims of trafficking come their way, there is a lack of specialist services that have the skills both in terms of providing for mental health problems and for women who are very distressed as a result of their experiences, so suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but that also have the legal background in order to be able to give the women the best advice in terms of their options. I think that there is definitely a lack of those specialist services outside of London.
Q72 Mrs Dean: Do you have any information on the cities or towns where women could get help through CHASTE or from women's aid?
Ms Marshall: There are very few: down on the south-west coast and in Leeds. There are a couple of projects in the north, but there are actually very few. There has not been funding for those projects, so there are very few at the moment. Victims of trafficking rely on the goodwill of those organisations and the will is there but that is all, there is no money.
Q73 Mr Streeter: This may be a very silly question and, if it is, please, forgive me. Does the increase of girls being trafficked from overseas mean that fewer UK-based people are being lured into the sex industry? Do you have any knowledge of that at all? Is there displacement going on?
Ms Marshall: Five or six years ago, 80% of off-street prostitution was British nationals and 20% was non-British nationals. That has completely switched and it is now 80% non-British nationals and 20% British nationals. However, there is still the street prostitution and there is a proliferation for the Internet escort agencies, some of which are providing services of prostitution. Nobody seems to be bringing these figures together, so I am afraid that it is very difficult to say.
Q74 Mr Streeter: The UKHTC, which you have already mentioned, was set up to increase and improve co-ordination amongst the various bodies working in this field. Would you tell us how successful you think that has been. Does it co-ordinate with NGOs? Which public authorities in particular need to improve their approach to victims?
Ms Marshall: The UKHTC is still in its early stages and its job is to gather intelligence. What we do not have is on the street officers, apart from the Met Human Trafficking Team, specialist officers who are out there identifying and bringing cases to court and I think that that has to be a priority. We have to date 75 cases of trafficking or trafficking associated cases that have gone to court. It is dreadful that, since we started the project in 2004, there have only been that many cases. That is what makes the UK a haven for traffickers because there are not the police out there who are doing that work. The UKHTC has started. I think that it works well with the police and is learning. Working with NGOs is not a relationship that is necessarily easy but I think it is willing to learn. However, I think that we have a long way to go.
Q75 Margaret Moran: Following on from that question, you are critical of the UK authorities in fighting trafficking, but do you have any feel or statistics for how the, if you like, importing counties are dealing with it? Are they actively working to prevent trafficking from their countries? Do you have any evidence about what is happening to the women being trafficked as they transit through other countries? Why are they still being enabled to come through as they often come through in very large numbers?
Ms Marshall: I think that the Met specialist Human Trafficking Team is actually very, very good. What I am saying is that I do not think that there are enough. If you employ the police officers to do that job and allowed them to have that specialism, actually they are very good, it is just that they are not being enabled to do that. I think that it depends on which countries you are coming from. We work very closely with Lithuania and the Lithuanian Government. Lithuania has been one of the top countries in terms of women arriving and the Lithuanian Government have been extremely sympathetic and have worked extremely hard with us in terms of trying to put out the awareness in Lithuania and working to ensure that women are returned safely. They are very good. Albania, which is on the immigration white list, I would say is actually not very good and there is no recognition that women are trafficked and that they are not doing very much there and we have lots of cases of re-trafficking of women from Albania. I think it very much depends on which country women come from.
Q76 Margaret Moran: Following up what I was asking about transiting countries, do you think that some countries are actually colluding in this?
Ms Johansson: Yes.
Q77 Margaret Moran: Tell us which countries.
Ms Johansson: Albania is a very good example where we know that there is a very high level of corruption and where women tell us anecdotally because that is how the information is collated at this stage that either law enforcement are actively involved in their trafficking or they are tacitly approving of it or receiving payment as a result of it. That is one country to highlight and I think that is also true for other countries, Nigeria, for example. You were asking previously about visas and women are anecdotally telling us that agents who are helping them to come to this country seem to be very well versed with the High Commission, for example, in Nigeria and seem to know the staff who are working there and are actually able to facilitate that process.
Q78 Mr Clappison: You have touched on a really important point there regarding agents. Are these agents who work for the Government or who work for the British Government bringing people to the Commission because there are agencies employed to help people with their applications for visas in Nigeria?
Ms Johansson: I would not necessarily know but the women would describe someone as "the person who helped me come to this country", "the agent who arranged my visa", "the trafficker who arranged my paperwork" and they seem to be very well versed with how to go about that and how to make those documents if not legitimate, then at least legitimate enough to pass at Passport Control in the UK. It is also important to touch upon the fact that no amount of awareness raising in the country of origin is going to be successful unless the root cause of the trafficking is actually tackled and that includes demand in this country, but it also includes push factors such as poverty and unemployment and the status of women in those countries where there is a very unequal status of women.
Q79 Margaret Moran: Can you say something about transit countries.
Ms Johansson: There are a number of established transit countries including Italy and France en route to the UK. I cannot necessarily say whether they are actively colluding in that or not, but women are actively transiting, for example through Africa ---
Q80 Chairman: Whereabouts in Italy? Rome?
Ms Johansson: Not necessarily.
Q81 Chairman: Anywhere in Italy and anywhere in France?
Ms Johansson: Nigerian women, for example, are very often trafficked through Italy to the UK. It seems to be an established route: travel by boat to Italy and then on to the UK.
Q82 Mr Streeter: In order to give me an overall feel of this, what percentage of earnings are these girls allowed to keep for themselves? How much is creamed off by the traffickers? What I am trying to get at is, how much do they send home to their families and so on?
Ms Marshall: It varies. Some women will get no money whatsoever; some traffickers have learned that, if they give women £1 per customer, they can then say that the woman was benefiting from prostitution which is helpful if they are ever picked up and there is a court case. It may be £1 or it may be £5. It is very usually a minimum to enable the trafficker to prepare a defence at some later stage. Some women get nothing.
Q83 Chairman: Thank you very much. I am sorry, do you have a very quick point to put to us?
Ms Johansson: I have regarding the Dublin 2 regulation, something about which we are very concerned. As we said before, 69% of the women on the POPPY Project are non-EU nationals and the majority of them will have transited through between one and nine other EU countries, which means that if Dublin 2 regulations were in force in terms of all victims of trafficking, the POPPY Project, for example, would be reduced to a mere transit centre. It would mean that the majority of the women who came to us we would not be able to support, not be able to give counselling to and not be able to give legal advice to because they would immediately be transferred back to another country. I think it is important to highlight that the Dublin 2 regulations came in to reduce asylum shopping but do not actually address where women are victims of crime or being forcibly transited through other countries. We are very concerned to ensure that women are able to seek justice in the UK where they have been the victim of crime but also to seek support here.
Ms Marshall: For example, you may have a woman whose trafficker decides to take her through Spain and Germany before the trafficker brings her to London. What will happen under Dublin 2 is that she will be removed to Spain. She does not have any choice about going there; she may not speak that language; she may only speak English; she may have worked in prostitution in this country. I think it is, quite frankly, a shabby attempt to shirk responsibility for the fact that she would not come to London or to the rest of the UK if there was not demand and to punish her seems abhorrent.
Chairman: Thank you very much for those points. Those are very important points which the Committee will pursue during the course of this inquiry. May I echo what members of the Committee have said individually which is to thank both of you not just for coming here today but also for the excellent work that the POPPY Project does not just in this country but it is respected and admired internationally on human trafficking and we are very grateful to you for what you have done. Thank you very much.
Memorandum submitted by ECPAT UK
Examination of Witness
Witness: Ms Christine Beddoe, Director, ECPAT UK, gave evidence.
Q84 Chairman: Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us today on this very important inquiry. I want to concentrate in your evidence session on children and the way in which children are trafficked. Is there a particular way that children are trafficked into the United Kingdom and does it depend on their country of origin?
Ms Beddoe: As with adult victims of trafficking, we are still very much behind when it comes to our knowledge base of child trafficking. Therefore, what information I can give you is not conclusive but it is from our experience and from the experience of police and other agencies with whom we work. We know that children are coming into the UK being trafficked for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, other forms of forced labour, benefit fraud and organised criminal activity such as cannabis cultivation and street crime from all parts of the world. Just as the POPPY Project mentioned trends with adult women, we are also seeing different trends with children and, at the moment, what appears to be the case is that a vast majority of children who have been trafficked into the country are currently Chinese children. We also see a large number of children coming from the African continent. Unlike in past years when it was predominantly West Africa, we now see trends emerging of children from throughout the African continent, north, south, east and west. This is something that has changed over the last few years.
Q85 Chairman: One issue that concerns this Committee and was quoted in The Guardian last week is the number of foreign children who are placed in local authority care and who then disappear from local authority care. The figure of 400 foreign children was mentioned in The Guardian article last week; is that an accurate figure?
Ms Beddoe: We believe that it is. The source of that information came from a Freedom of Information Act request, so we believe that that is an accurate number and that there are only a small number of local authorities which those numbers came from, so the real number is likely to be much higher. Our own research that we conducted two years ago which we published in 2007 in a very small scale study was that, of 80 children knowingly identified as trafficked, 60% of those children had gone missing from local authority care in five local authorities.
Q86 Chairman: Let us go through those figure a little slower for the Committee's benefit. Are we talking about a year? Were the figures you gave us for 2007 the figures for 2006?
Ms Beddoe: One of the anomalies that we have in data collection is that unfortunately data is not always recorded so neatly. When we requested information from local authorities during the period of our study - these were local authorities in the north-east, north-west and the West Midlands - it was dependent on what information they had available.
Q87 Chairman: What was the timescale of your inquiry?
Ms Beddoe: It was over 18 months.
Q88 Chairman: Over an 18-month period, you wrote to a number of local authorities.
Ms Beddoe: Yes, and interviewed.
Q89 Chairman: And they said that, of the 80 children in care, 60% disappeared?
Ms Beddoe: That is correct.
Q90 Chairman: Is the figure of 400 an extrapolation for that?
Ms Beddoe: No, not at all. The figure of 400 was not our numbers; that came from what I understand to be a Freedom of Information request that came from The Guardian itself to local authorities.
Q91 Chairman: So, you say that the figure is even higher than that?
Ms Beddoe: Yes. I would like to take that further. That was our first study. We called our report Missing Out because we were so horrified at those numbers. The Government did their own scoping study a few months later published as the CEOP Report - Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre report - and they came up with a figure of 330 children suspected or identified as trafficked of which 56% had gone missing from local authority care. Their figures in percentage terms and our figures are very, very similar. That was a UK-wide study.
Q92 Chairman: Where do these children go?
Ms Beddoe: We do not know because they go missing.
Q93 Chairman: What is the follow-up that you do as an organisation when you find out what these figures are and that they are as high as they have been?
Ms Beddoe: One of the things that we have been trying to do is raise this not only at local authority level but to the Ministers responsible. I have myself written to the Minister responsible for children to not only raise this to their attention ---
Q94 Chairman: Was that to a Junior Minister or to the Secretary of State?
Ms Beddoe: It was to a Junior Minister in 2007 when our report came out to which I was told that there was no need for an independent inquiry because it was all being dealt with. I think that is a disgrace. I cannot believe that a Children's Minister cannot think that it is not a serious problem and that was when we had the lower figure. We still now have no formal response from the Secretary of State.
Q95 Chairman: May I stop you there. You wrote to the Minister for Children with the results of your survey and asked for follow-up action and he replied to you saying that no further action was going to be taken/
Ms Beddoe: That is correct.
Q96 Chairman: Would you let the Committee have a copy of your letter to him and his letter to you?
Ms Beddoe: Yes, I will, absolutely.
Q97 Chairman: The whole Committee would share your view that this is a very, very important issue and they are shocked to learn that that was the response. Who is the Minister concerned?
Ms Beddoe: We are talking about 2007 and I would need to go back. I have subsequently written other letters to Ministers who have come on board later and I am prepared to share all of those letters and the responses with the Committee.
Q98 Chairman: What was the latest letter that you wrote to a Government Minister about this subject? Do you know roughly when that was?
Ms Beddoe: It would have been in mid-2007.
Q99 Chairman: What was their response? Was it a similar response?
Ms Beddoe: Yes.
Chairman: I find this shocking and I think that the rest of the Committee finds it shocking as well.
Q100 Margaret Moran: I have been doing a little of my own research in Luton with the police and Social Services who tell me that six Chinese children have been trafficked in through different airports. That is all they know because the figures are not collated. My first question is, should somebody somewhere be trying to collate these figures? I was a little concerned when you said that nobody knows where the children are going because research by Bedfordshire University shows that there are established patterns. Children are going into the care of Social Services and, within 48 hours in our case, they are going missing and they can map the towns that they are being taken to. Surely if we know that information - and I am a little alarmed that you do not but that research has been done - how is it that we cannot track and intercept what is going on?
Ms Beddoe: When we talk about children going missing, if they have gone missing and they have not been traced, then nobody knows their whereabouts. There are children who have been traced and who emerge later on in other local authorities and, if those children are in local authority care and if they have come to the attention of the authorities or other groups, then, yes, of course we know those children too. When we are truly talking about children who go missing, they are missing because there is no other data and I think that that is the problem that most concerns us. Instead of having the same responses that we have had, if there were a missing child who is an indigenous British child, there are processes in place. There are police processes and there are children services processes.
Q101 Chairman: But you are saying that this is not being dealt with; it is not being followed up.
Ms Beddoe: No and part of the problem is that children go missing very early after arriving into local authority care and those processes are not clicked in because the various teams that are responsible are leaving children who are already vulnerable exposed to become lured or going missing.
Chairman: Margaret Moran will come back to this later in the light of your observations.
Q102 Gwyn Prosser: Before I move on with the next question, may I ask if you have a feel of whether these children are in some way compliant with the process. In other words, do they have a pre-arranged game plan or are they being dictated to?
Ms Beddoe: I think that we need to go back to looking at the situation of children who are coming into the country as trafficked children. Many of them do not even know that they are being trafficked. Many are deceived into thinking that they are coming for a better life. We often talk about the "better life syndrome", particularly with children who are being brought into the country for domestic servitude. There are often promises of education or employment opportunities or even foster care and it is only later on when they find themselves in highly exploitative situations that they start to realise that things are not going in the way that they thought. So, at the time of arrival, even upon interview by immigration authorities, that child may still have no idea what the intention is for them to eventually go into and I think that it is at that point in time when the question is asked, are children compliant? They have often been told the story to tell, yes, but, at that time, they may think that that will help them get into educational school and I think that we have to look at what children say in the context of what it is that they have been told before and that is not often brought out.
Chairman: Before Gwyn Prosser goes on, Ms Buck has a point to raise.
Q103 Ms Buck: I am sorry to ask such a basic question but could you clarify for the Committee what the process is by which the majority of these children are coming. They are presumably coming in with a fake passport that identifies them as the child or relative or someone who is not a relative; is that right?
Ms Beddoe: Children come into the country by all means. They can come in completely legally on their own passport; it is very unlikely but it is possible. We have children coming in through various means such as in the back of the lorry who have been trafficked, who have no documentation, and then we have children - and this is most of our experience - who are arriving into the UK on documents that are not their own. That does not mean that they are false and faked up, it means that either the documents that have been used to obtain the passport have been fraudulent or that the document is simply another child with a real child's passport and some of those children even have the same photograph as the previous child. It is very difficult to say that there is one answer.
Q104 Ms Buck: Are the ones who come through that route accompanied for the most part?
Ms Beddoe: There are children who are accompanied and children who are coming on their own.
Q105 Gwyn Prosser: I want to ask you about in particular the special support and care that these children need in terms of their mental health and their physical well being. Would you tell us a little about that.
Ms Beddoe: When children come into local authority care, usually their physical health needs are met quite quickly within our system; that is usually the case. However, for most of them it is the mental healthcare needs that goes undetected or unnoticed or not even bothered about and what we see very often is that children who have been trafficked experience a high level of post-traumatic stress disorder that sometimes manifests in what is called difficult behaviours or antisocial behaviours and children are often not treated in the way they should be and do not get access to counselling services and do not get access to the proper mental healthcare support because, in local authority care systems when children come into the asylum system, access to counselling is often on a long waiting list; access to CAMS or child and adolescent mental health services are often on a very long waiting list, so mental health issues often go completely undetected.
Q106 Gwyn Prosser: I believe that your organisation has been talking about some sort of guardianship system; do you want to elaborate on that?
Ms Beddoe: We believe that it is imperative to have a system of guardianship on an independent basis for every separated child who comes into the UK and specifically for trafficked children. A guardian is not the same as a social worker and a guardian is not the same as a legal adviser. Guardians have an independent role to ensure that the child is getting access to all support services and treatment within the best interests of that individual child. A guardian would help children to navigate the vast maze of different services they have to go through whether that is immigration, release or local authority care, and we believe that a guardian really is one of the key tools that we can use to prevent children going missing but also to ensure that every child who is a victim of trafficking gets the support that they need.
Q107 Gwyn Prosser: Would they be volunteers or would they be part of your organisation?
Ms Beddoe: We believe that a system of guardianship should be set up under statute. The responsibilities they would have would equate to parental responsibility. Therefore, this is not something that we would expect to be done on a volunteer basis. There are different models of guardianship around the world - the Netherlands has an excellent model - and we think that there is definitely scope to look at some of those global models.
Chairman: We are running well behind time because what you have to say is so fascinating and important to the Committee. Could I ask the members of the Committee and you, Ms Beddoe, if you could to keep your questions and answers as brief as possible.
Q108 Mrs Dean: Are there regional variations in the support services available to child victims of trafficking? Which regions seem to apply best practice and how can we spread that best practice?
Ms Beddoe: Support services are patchy all over the United Kingdom. We have small, very good practice models. It does not seem to be necessarily in big cities or urban areas. There is no consistency necessarily, so you may get one good local authority within a regional grouping but the other local authorities around it are not necessarily up to the same standard. I think that is a difficult question to give a comprehensive answer to.
Q109 Mr Streeter: You have been quite critical in your evidence about how the Borders and Immigration Agency deal with these children. How do they deal with them and how should they deal with them in your opinion?
Ms Beddoe: One of the biggest complications that we have in offering or suggesting to offer up a fully comprehensive package of support for children is that the vast majority of children are trafficked into the UK from outside the European Union and therefore, in our current system, they can only access support if they claim asylum. That is the anomaly that we are faced with. Therefore, they are children in the asylum system. Unfortunately, the asylum system for unaccompanied children is very poor in what it offers children anyway. Therefore, when we expect those systems to then have to scale up to offer a higher level of protection, they are completely inadequate. It is Home Office and immigration policies that control the vast majority of children's care or what local authorities believe to be the care that they can provide. We do not have yet a joined-up comprehensive approach across the UK. What we are asking for is something that is currently not available. We need to be able to get immigration policies consistent with safeguarding policies for children. We are not there yet. The continual resistance for immigration authorities to be placed under section 11 of the Children's Act is a real barrier. Therefore, we would like to have an independent review of all immigration policies and asylum policies with respect to trafficked children to look at those inconsistencies.
Q110 Mrs Cryer: You mentioned Operation Paladin which apparently is a multi-agency approach used by the Met. Would it be proportionate to have that sort of set-up at every port across the country, and could I also ask would that perhaps reduce the number of children who are disappearing from local authority care?
Ms Beddoe: Operation Paladin, now known as the Paladin Team in the Metropolitan Police, is a highly effective multi-agency project that works at London's ports. We do believe that this is a model, because of its success, that can be transferred to all ports across the UK. It will help enormously with getting safeguards for trafficked children as they arrive into ports, it will help to reduce the numbers of children potentially that can go missing because you would have a child protection approach at the port of entry right there, right in front of those children. Also, and I would like to bring this to the attention of the Committee, we are concerned about the children being trafficked out of the UK and by having a specialist multi-agency group already placed at ports of entry we would hope to be able to pick up on that issue very quickly.
Q111 Margaret Moran: Perhaps you could give a written response to one question to save time. We have been told that the practical solution and the answer to all these problems would all be resolved if we removed the reservation on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, if we ratified the optional protocol to the Convention on the sale of children et cetera and by ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children. Perhaps you could do us a note saying which of those is a magic wand that is going to make a difference here, but what I really wanted to do was follow this up. It is truly shocking that we do not have a child protection response at port of entry; we raised all these issues at Victoria Climbié, a 10-minute Rule Bill with NSPCC, at which we said that there needed to be proper identification and tracking of children at the point of entry. How is it that we still have not got that and, secondly, there are established networks of children's services across the country; if we know which towns, as we do from research, these children are being moved to, how is that the children and social services network is not operating effectively to protect those children as they move around?
Ms Beddoe: On your first point, yes, I will send you a written note with comments around the comprehensive details about the reservation, the optional protocol and other matters. One of the easiest mechanisms that we believe could be put in place to identify concerns about children very, very quickly at ports of entry is to have a separate channel for children who are accompanied by a parent or guardian. When they come into the country at the moment they both go through the channel together and both get interviewed by the same immigration officer; inevitably the child does not get a thorough interview, they go through and the adult gets the interview. We would like to see a separate channel where those children who are coming in with a parent or a person who is not a parent or guardian get interviewed completely separately, within a child protection framework. That information is then brought together with the information from the adult interview and if there are still concerns then a rigorous follow-up is done, very much similar to the original Operation Paladin. This would help enormously to start to track where children are going but, more importantly, get victim identification measures at the very earliest point in time.
Chairman: That is very, very helpful. If you have any other suggestions along those lines, please let us know. Finally, could I ask Ann Cryer and Janet Dean, first of all Ann Cryer, as briefly as possibly, please.
Q112 Mrs Cryer: The UKHTC was set up to ensure that trafficking was regarded as a human rights issue and not just an immigration or organised crime one. How effective is it in ensuring that the human rights of victims are respected?
Ms Beddoe: The UK Human Trafficking Centre is not in its own right a human rights-based organisation, and from my understanding the performance of UKHTC is not measured on the basis of upholding human rights, there are no performance indicators as I understand it from the Centre about that. That does not mean to say it does not follow human rights principles, but if we truly want to see a human rights approach being integrated into a victim care approach then the model itself needs to be based on the fundamental principles of human rights and, in my case certainly, specifically children's rights. I do not think we have seen that yet; the children's rights aspects are not necessarily articulated through the victim care approach so maybe that is something that they can work on. I know that POPPY Project said it is early days yet and we believe there is still a lot of room for learning.
Q113 Mrs Dean: ECPAT emphasised the need for a single agency to pull together the information from all the public authorities that work with trafficked children. Is this not one of the roles of UKHTC and should the national tapporteur you propose be based in UKHTC?
Ms Beddoe: We draw on the model of a national rapporteur that is underscored in the 1997 Hague Convention and other international instruments that say that the rapporteur should be fully independent and impartial to be able to accurately collect data from a wide range of different agencies. We do not feel that the UKHTC is in that particular place because of the way it was set up and the fact that it reports to government. This is actually the most recent National Rapporteur of the Netherlands report, a very comprehensive document; it is in English and I would strongly suggest the Committee get a copy of that. I would also be prepared to facilitate a meeting if the Chairman or other members of the Committee would like to meet with the Dutch rapporteur to see how different that model is to what the UKHTC could offer.
Q114 Chairman: It is a better model?
Ms Beddoe: A much better model. It is more independent and comprehensive; all they do is collect, analyse data and report to Parliament and any other stakeholders. It is that very independence that makes it such a good model in the Netherlands.
Q115 Mrs Dean: Can I just follow that up? Will that not just add to the confusion of the array of agencies involved, and in response to the first part of your answer should not UKHTC be co-ordinating the multitude of UK public authorities anyway?
Ms Beddoe: The rapporteur is not a co-ordinating role, the rapporteur is very much one that collects data and has the mandate to go out to all agencies, government and non-government, to collect data on all facets of trafficking. It has a very strong reputation in the Netherlands for being impartial - it is separate from the policy-making role and it is separate from operational and that is what gives it impartiality. That is something that would certainly be appreciated in Parliament when we are looking for clear and precise data, without data with an agenda, and that is what we would like to see.
Chairman: Thank you. Ms Beddoe, you have been very open and frank with this Committee and you have clearly shocked all of us with the figures relating to the number of children who are missing. We would be grateful if you could speak to our clerks immediately after this session and please fax us the letter you sent to the relevant minister and the minister's reply. We will place them before the Committee and if we are not satisfied with what he has said we will call him to give evidence to us immediately. Thank you very much for coming today. Could I call our next set of witnesses from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, please?
Memorandum submitted by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Ian Livsey, Chief Executive, and Mr David Nix, Head of Policy and Communications, Gangmasters Licensing Authority, gave evidence.
Q116 Chairman: Good morning, thank you for coming to give evidence. You have watched the previous session; it is extremely important that we have crisp answers.
Mr Livsey: I will be succinct, Chairman.
Q117 Chairman: If members of the Committee could also be succinct in the way in which they put their questions to you, could I start by asking you how do you distinguish between those that are just badly treated by employers - for example, they are paid very badly - and those who are actually exploited and subject to trafficking?
Mr Livsey: We have revoked seven of our licences with immediate effect.
Q118 Chairman: You have revoked seven licences.
Mr Livsey: With immediate effect, that is you must cease trading immediately. We have revoked many more than that without immediate effect, that allows people to put things right, but in the most severe cases where we revoke with immediate effect the gangmaster involved has got to cease trading immediately. In those cases we have found evidence of what we call the ILO indicators of forced labour as part of the description that has caused us to reach that decision, so things like intimidation, threats of violence, allegations of threats of intimidation, attempts at forced evictions from accommodation with a loss of the licence, debt bondage - quite clearly - withholding workers' wages and threats to turn off utilities from accommodation that is tied to the employment. Those are indicators of forced labour. In addition though we usually see other factors such as transport where the doors perhaps are welded together, hurtling along at breakneck speeds where the workers are sat on breezeblocks, that kind of abuse of employment rights in many ways, so we get both in the most serious cases.
Q119 Chairman: It is clear to you a bad employer as opposed to someone who is forcing people to work as forced labour.
Mr Livsey: It is probably not as clear-cut as that, it is usually a mix of the two.
Mr Nix: There is certainly a scale of somebody who is a vulnerable worker, an exploited worker, and somebody in forced labour.
Q120 Chairman: What is your estimate of the number of people trafficked in the areas that you regulate?
Mr Livsey: Would it be helpful if I ran through a few statistics to give you a picture of what we are trying to deal with here, and I will be brief, Chairman. The last figures we have about the number of migrant workers that were working in the agricultural sector, which is our remit, were around 420,000 to 600,000 so on average about half a million people. It is a very interesting picture and I will just briefly highlight some of the things that we know about the sector. Probably about two-thirds of the gangmasters are male, so it is not predominantly male, a third are female, and 85% of them will be British-born. 75%, that is three-quarters of these, will be registered companies and about 14% will be sole traders. 43% of them have been in our sector for between one and five years and nearly a quarter of them have been in the sector for ten years. This is mainly a migrant worker issue, it is mainly an A8 accession state migrant worker issue. 82% of the gangmasters we deal with employ Polish or some Polish workers; only about 9% of them employ just British workers so it is very much a migrant worker issue. Some of these businesses can be substantial: 14% have got a turnover of less than £100,000 but something like 41% are between that figure and a million and 20% are over a million pounds per annum turnover, so there are some substantial businesses involved in this.
Q121 Chairman: Just to recap, we are talking about half a million people working as forced labour in this country.
Mr Livsey: No, half a million people working in the agricultural sector under the gangmaster regime.
Q122 Chairman: How many would you say are forced labour?
Mr Livsey: I could not answer that question, we just do not know.
Q123 Chairman: Do we know estimates?
Mr Livsey: I have no knowledge of them.
Q124 Chairman: The country of origin is Eastern and Central Europe.
Mr Livsey: Yes, predominantly Polish at the moment and we see Slovakian and Lithuanian. It is probable that we will start to see more from other countries around the Eastern European area which means of course they have the right to work here but not the right to be abused here.
Q125 Mr Streeter: Do you think this sector attracts organised crime gangs and, if so, are there any particular nationalities at work, are there any patterns that you can talk to us about, whether formally or anecdotally and do you think that this sector is more associated with other criminal activity as well?
Mr Livsey: That is very hard for us to say. We are very focused in the standards that we use on the use of labour under the gangmaster scheme in agriculture so we tend not to see any evidence of other associated serious crimes but we tend clearly to see the kinds of issues that I talked about. Where it might be coming from, other serious crime, again I have no information.
Mr Nix: If I could add to that, certainly in our collaborative work with other enforcement agencies if there is illegality that we witness it is likely there may be illegality in other areas as well, so we do a lot of joint work with the police particularly. In terms of the scale though it is very difficult to say how widespread it is but it is something we have observed to an extent.
Q126 Ms Buck: You have said, understandably perhaps, that you cannot really estimate the scale of the forced labour problem but how do you know when you are winning? What are your success measures?
Mr Livsey: This is a new regulator. The second year of its existence involved introducing the licensing scheme; we license around 1200 or so legitimate gangmasters and 70% of those who went through that licensing process had to improve the way they dealt with their workforce as part of getting their licence, so we made an immediate impact there. Some of the data I shared with you just now comes from an independent survey done by the Universities of Liverpool and Sheffield about performance - they do it annually - and they survey the gangmasters, the labour users (the farms et cetera) and while no regulator is nor should be widely accepted, the general view is that we have made a good start and done a good job, professionalising the sector in some ways. The key for us to success will be in the next two to three years when we move from the licensing of the legitimate (if I can put it that way) to the enforcement to try to stop the ones who are currently evading us and acting illegally, and the whole organisational progression of this regulator is from set-up, the introduction of licensing and towards the now enforcement mentality and focus that we have to of course maintain the standards of those that are licensed but to enforce the law on those who are still evading our licensing scheme and operating illegally.
Q127 Ms Buck: Does that really imply that the work you have done so far - and I am not in any way trying to be critical of it - has been focused almost entirely on people who perhaps need that regulation less?
Mr Livsey: What we have done so far in the two and a half years we have been operational is set the regulator up and brought under control the existing system by licensing and, as I say, that was a major step in itself in that seven out of ten had to improve to get where they got to, but the whole point of the GLA is that it is an enforcement body. We are here to enforce the powers that we have, we are here to protect workers, and therefore we are now getting to where we want to be. The acid test for this body, the acid test for the scheme, is over the next two to three years when we start to root out those who have evaded us, those who are operating illegally and continue to police the standards so that nobody working in this field should be exploited.
Q128 Ms Buck: But if you do not really know how big the problem is how on earth are you going to be able to map where you need to do the enforcement?
Mr Livsey: Our problem is the gangmaster, not the number of migrant workers. Our job is to license the gangmasters and to make sure that they treat however many workers they may have properly. The way we work is through an intelligence-led approach and we know who we have got so far and we have an idea through the information we get about where we need to be looking for the ones we have not got so as we move to increasing our enforcement capability we will start to pick off the gangmasters, which is really our area of interest for the next few years.
Mr Nix: If I could just try and put a picture around the size of the problem, as Ian said we are an intelligence-led organisation, we are not interested in the good guys and if there is no reason to visit somebody we will not do. In our intelligence system we have got around about 3000 intelligence reports from a variety of sources - other government organisations and enforcement agencies, from licence-holders themselves who have reported people who are undercutting them, from the labour users and also from the workers themselves. That can be reported to us anonymously or in person and that gives you a real sense of the volume of intelligence we are getting into our system now. We always action pieces of intelligence and we build a picture that allows us to target our work.
Q129 Mr Winnick: Your organisation was set up, was it not, following the tragedy of the 23 Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay?
Mr Livsey: The Bill was passing through Parliament at the time, sponsored by Jim Sheridan, and commensurate with that that tragic incident happened and facilitated the early passing of the Act.
Q130 Mr Winnick: When did you actually start operating?
Mr Livsey: 2005.
Mr Nix: We started accepting applications from April 2006 and then the offences were switched on in late 2006.
Q131 Mr Winnick: When the Morecambe Bay tragedy occurred you were not actually in effect.
Mr Livsey: Correct.
Q132 Mr Winnick: But that certainly had an effect, that appalling tragedy.
Mr Livsey: Yes, it obviously heightened the interest.
Q133 Mr Winnick: As efforts are being made to clamp down on exploitation in the agriculture and food sector how far is this kind of activity moving to other areas such as the construction and catering trades?
Mr Livsey: We have a very clear remit to stay within the agricultural sector so we really do not have any information or knowledge about how far it is spreading to construction, catering, cleaning, hospitality - people mention care homes. I have no information on that; we are a newish regulator and we are working very hard within the agriculture sector. I know there is a debate about it, my job is to sort the problem out in the agriculture sector and that is what I am doing.
Q134 Mr Winnick: Rightly so, no one is disputing that for one moment, but it does appear that this type of exploitation is in fact going from one sector which you mention to other areas.
Mr Livsey: We know that certain organisations, companies that we have licensed, have either stopped acting in our sector or somehow disappeared but we do not know where they have gone. My job and the right thing for us to do is to stay focused on sorting out this problem that we have in the agriculture sector.
Mr Nix: We do work very closely with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform who are responsible for the Employment Agencies Inspectorate so we will pass on all the relevant information about evidence of exploration and abuse outside of our sector for them to investigate.
Q135 Mr Winnick: I am just wondering how far the Gangmasters Licensing Authority could in fact extend its activities if the Government so decided to other sectors. Would that be practical?
Mr Livsey: Again, the thing is we do not know. You will be aware, perhaps, that there is a vulnerable workers forum chaired by Pat McFadden, the employment minister, which is looking exactly at those kinds of issues: how can enforcement bodies like ourselves - and we sit on that forum - work together on what are the best ways to solve the problem across all of the sectors? Our job is to sort it out in the agricultural sector and that is really what we are travelling on.
Q136 Mr Winnick: What actually happens to the victims when an illegal operation is busted? Are there any support services for them?
Mr Nix: Before we take action we always conduct what we call a community impact assessment and that is where we try and estimate the likely impact of the action we take - the size of the workforce, the nationalities and whether they would need to be provided with emergency housing, for example, and that is where we have worked with the local authorities and other organisations - charities, migrant worker groups, church groups - to try and make sure there is a support safety net in place because we do not want as an unintended consequence of our actions to make the immediate situation worse for the workers. It is something we are improving all the time, we are improving our own knowledge and capacity for dealing with those situations. We cannot act alone, that is why we do work with other organisations so that we do have the ability to offer that kind of immediate support to victims.
Mr Livsey: Can I broaden that out as well, very briefly, into the area of major retailers which you touched on in previous evidence. We recently carried out an operation in conjunction with Sainsbury's where as part of the process we closed down with immediate effect a licensed gangmaster, and Sainsbury's helped us move 138 Poles into temporary direct employment as a way to ameliorate the fact that they had just lost their jobs. In some ways that whole approach is part of the same issue.
Q137 Mr Winnick: In so far as the people involved, the victims, are here legally efforts are then made to try and get them proper employment.
Mr Livsey: Yes.
Mr Nix: Our immediate reaction is to take the person out of an exploitative environment, that is our first step that we always take.
Q138 Chairman: What is the budget of your organisation, Mr Livsey?
Mr Livsey: £3.4 million.
Q139 Chairman: How many people work for you?
Mr Livsey: 55.
Q140 Chairman: How many of them speak Polish?
Mr Livsey: We have just lost one and we are replacing him with a multilingual intelligence person.
Q141 Chairman: You have one person.
Mr Livsey: We have one.
Q142 Chairman: It seems to me that since the clientele, if you want to put it like that, is 80% Polish, and these are the people we are trying to help who are being exploited, we need to do more of that than we currently do.
Mr Livsey: Absolutely. We are increasing our multilingual capacity in our intelligence function, which is where the one person was, we have translators on tap, we have helplines that are multilingual but we also work very closely with organisations like the CABs, church societies, Polish community societies.
Q143 Chairman: Sure. I am not trying to encourage you to go on lots of trips to Poland but publicising through organisations there precisely what they face when they come here - not to put them off coming because we want them to come here - to just keep them informed so that they know what they are expecting.
Mr Nix: A big strand of our work is making sure people are aware.
Q144 Chairman: How much of your budget do you spend on that, of the £3.4 million, making people more aware of what they are going to face when they come here?
Mr Livsey: We have a £70,000 publications budget which prints multilingual leaflets and David was about to say he travels to Moldova and to Slovakia and places like that to attend events. Most of the money, £2 million or so, goes on enforcement activities.
Mr Nix: We also work very closely with the embassies of those countries.
Q145 Mr Winnick: Is the Polish Embassy fully for this?
Mr Nix: Yes, and we are actually planning to hold an event with them next week for Polish media who are based in the UK so we can disseminate that kind of message to the Polish national newspapers.
Q146 Mr Winnick: The Poles, if one makes any sort of generalised comment, tend to be rather religious and one wonders - you made mention in passing to the Chairman about the church societies - how far can the churches be involved?
Mr Nix: We work with them very closely, particularly in the local areas where you have large migrant communities.
Q147 Chairman: What percentage say to you "Thank you very much for trying to tell us what our rights are but actually this is what I want to earn because I earn more here than I could earn in my country of residence"? Is there much of that, leave us alone, we are quite happy to get a pound or whatever it is?
Mr Nix: That is a very, very pertinent question because with the standard of living and the wages they may have been earning in their home country, the attraction of coming to the UK is very much that, and that is where they make themselves vulnerable to exploitation. If you are working in the UK there are basic employment rights and you should be fairly treated, it is as simple as that.
Q148 Chairman: Have you had any contact with the British Embassy in Poland?
Mr Nix: Yes.
Q149 Chairman: And they are helping you.
Mr Nix: Yes.
Chairman: Excellent. Mr Livsey and Mr Nix, thank you very much for your evidence, it has been very helpful to our inquiry. Could I now call our final set of witnesses for this session, the two representatives of Kalayaan.
Memorandum submitted by Kalayaan
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ms Kate Roberts, Co-ordinator, and Ms Jenny Moss, Community Support Worker, Kalayaan, gave evidence.
Q150 Chairman: Ms Roberts and Ms Moss, thank you very much for giving evidence to this Committee. One of the main difficulties that we have experienced so far is the understanding of the number of people involved. Do we have any estimates as to the number who are involved in this area who have been trafficked?
Ms Moss: It is very difficult for Kalayaan to estimate the total number of people involved, but we can tell you how many people come to see us. In 2006 327 new migrant domestic workers registered with us, it is approximately 340 every year. We might be seeing the worst off, we might be seeing the people who are luckier because they have managed to escape their employers and they have managed to find us.
Q151 Chairman: Do you have any estimates? I realise this is a difficult area.
Ms Roberts: We know from the Freedom of Information Act that 18,206 new visas were issued to migrant domestic workers to enter the UK during 2006. Many of those would have entered on a domestic worker visa which was valid for six months to accompany an employer who was coming to the UK as a visitor, so they may have come and left again within six months with their employer, perfectly happily, or they may not have, we just do not know.
Q152 Chairman: There is no agency that can help us find out more information.
Ms Roberts: Not that we know of.
Q153 Chairman: Is this a London-based problem or is this spread across the whole of the UK?
Ms Roberts: Again, we do not really know. Kalayaan is a very small organisation, we are four members of staff and we are based in West London. We get calls from all over the UK; most domestic workers hear of us through word of mouth, they have escaped from an employer and usually they approach someone else from their nationality who speaks their language to help them, and that is how they hear of us, so most of the domestic workers we see have been based in London and that is how they find us, but we do get calls from CABs, from domestic workers themselves, from religious organisations, from all over the UK, so I do not think the problem is London-based.
Q154 Mr Streeter: Do you know what proportion of those who come here in domestic servitude are brought in by criminal gangs versus those coming in, as you have just described, with individual employers?
Ms Roberts: We do not know the proportion again, I am sorry. There is a domestic worker visa which the Home Office are planning to change during the introduction of the points-based system, but at the moment there is a domestic worker visa so domestic workers are brought with a named employer to work in that employer's private household. The idea is that a person can only bring a domestic worker to the UK if they are an individual who has already been employing that domestic worker for a minimum of 12 months, and that is meant to be to protect the worker, the idea being that if they have already worked for them for 12 months the job must be okay. In practice we hear from domestic workers that this 12 months is often ignored. Many domestic workers are just taken to an embassy and made to sign a form and they do not know what the form says, but it probably says that they have worked for the employer for 12 months, but when we speak to them they have not been working for 12 months or they do not even go to the embassy, they are just made to sign something. We do hear of workers who have been recruited by someone else to work for an employer but we do not know the scale of the problem and it does seem to be usually individuals rather than large-scale organised crime.
Q155 Mr Streeter: Some of the people who approach you, have they been smuggled or trafficked into the country and end up in servitude?
Ms Roberts: The majority do come on the domestic worker visa and that visa does offer them some level of protection because at least when they leave an employer they are recognised as a worker, which will not be the case under the proposed changes to the immigration rules. We do have some come to us who have been brought in on visit visas or visas that should not really exist, like visas which say "Visit visa to work with" - that was meant to be got rid of in 1988. We do not really see workers who have been smuggled in.
Q156 Mr Streeter: Finally from me, people who come to you and you think that they are being exploited, what do you do with them and do the agencies help?
Ms Moss: The first thing we do is tell them about their rights because, as Kate has already mentioned, at the moment they do have rights, they will no longer if the proposed changes are introduced but at the moment they have the right to change employers and they have the right to renew their visa as long as they are in fulltime work. What we do is help them understand that and help them understand that they can leave an abusive employer. Then we have the immediate difficulty of where they live when they have left the employer because there is no emergency accommodation for domestic workers and, as we heard from the GLA, often we have to work through church groups and phone round people and try and find a floor for them to stay on so that they can leave the abusive employer.
Q157 Margaret Moran: Can we just distinguish, obviously we are interested in trafficking but how do you distinguish between somebody that is brought in and has a bad employer paying less than the minimum wage et cetera et cetera as opposed to somebody who is being brought in for slavery or forced labour? How do you make that distinction, can you give us a feel for what proportions you are dealing with?
Ms Roberts: It is a really important question and as you say Kalayaan is an organisation which works with all migrant domestic workers in the UK, whether they have been trafficked or not. We would say if you look at the definition of trafficking, most domestic workers have been trafficked, although they do not see themselves as having been trafficked - in terms of having been deceived by their employers, been coerced by their employers, been threatened by their employers, often been imprisoned, not paid. When Anti-Slavery International were doing research for their UK country report on trafficking for labour exploitation, which I think they published in 2006, they came to Kalayaan and met the workers who happened to be in our centre at the time, and they said that every worker they met had been trafficked. The issue of identification is an important one because domestic workers tend not to identify themselves as having been trafficked, they tend not to be identified by the authorities as having been trafficked and Kalayaan is not a specialist trafficking organisation. We try and protect domestic workers under the existing provisions by which they can leave an abusive employer and find a better fulltime job.
Q158 Bob Russell: I wonder if I could just briefly go back to Mr Streeter's question. You told us that 18,206 migrant domestic worker visas were issued by the UK in 2006; does that suggest to you that the British authorities must be dull because you have told us that these people must have worked for their employer for a year and the notion that 18,206 people entered the UK with domestic workers in tow strikes me as being an extraordinarily high number.
Ms Roberts: We were also surprised by how many visas are issued but many of those employers would have been coming for a short period of time and may well have left again with the workers, we just do not know.
Q159 Bob Russell: Is this an area the Committee should be looking at when we make our recommendations as to how gullible the British authorities appear to be in issuing so many domestic worker visas?
Ms Roberts: It would definitely be interesting to look at the processes in British embassies overseas because as we said in our written evidence many domestic workers never even go to a British embassy for an interview. We interview all the workers who register at Kalayaan and ask them if they ever went to a British embassy and were interviewed and told about their rights when they applied for their visa and many never did go to an embassy, and if they did go to an embassy they were accompanied by their employer or someone from the employer's household.
Q160 Bob Russell: I thank you for highlighting a clear loophole in the system. The UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking which was published 13 or 14 months ago stated that the UK's effort up to then focused mainly on trafficking for sexual exploitation and that the authorities needed to pay increased attention to areas such as child trafficking - we have heard about that - and trafficking for forced labour, which we have also heard about. What, if anything, has the UK Human Trafficking Centre done to rebalance those priorities?
Ms Roberts: Well, they do state that they are going to be focusing on trafficking for forced labour, which of course we commend, because as far as we are concerned it has been an area that has not had much interest paid to it and it is obviously an area where a lot of people are trafficked and exploited. In our experience not enough is being done, there have been no convictions as I understand still for trafficking for forced labour and certainly none for trafficking for domestic servitude in private households, but that is not because it does not happen. Again, as we have said in our written evidence, 32% of the domestic workers who come to Kalayaan are not in possession of their passports when they come to us, they have had to escape, leaving behind their passports, and Kalayaan does take action to try and get domestic workers' passports back to them. When we go to the police with a domestic worker it is never treated as a potential case of trafficking. When we call authorities and say we have a victim of trafficking who needs help and support and wants to give evidence, again there has been no interest in taking up that case.
Bob Russell: Perhaps we need to pursue that also. Thank you very much.
Q161 Mrs Cryer: You say in your submission that in most UK posts abroad, presumably high commissions and embassies, where would-be employees go to get their entry clearance papers, the would-be employee is interviewed with the employer which is very inappropriate. Could you just tell us are there any posts abroad where they actually do it properly and actually interview the applicant?
Ms Moss: We could possibly pull out the separate figures for where people are interviewed separately, but in our experience, just anecdotally, it would seem that there are no examples of good practice that we have been aware of. Possibly if we went back to our database and tried to cross-match everyone who had been interviewed separately with the countries there would be a pattern, but possibly not.
Q162 Mrs Cryer: What you are saying is that almost all of these posts interview people together.
Ms Moss: If they interview them at all. We have some figures here if you want them.
Q163 Chairman: Would you send us those figures?
Ms Moss: Yes, absolutely.
Q164 Mrs Cryer: Are you actually saying that some of these people get entry clearance without being interviewed?
Ms Moss: Yes.
Q165 Chairman: Domestic workers?
Ms Moss: Yes.
Q166 Chairman: From which countries?
Ms Moss: Domestic workers come from a variety of different countries but the ones that come and see us are predominantly from India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Q167 Chairman: And they are not interviewed by the entry clearance officers.
Ms Moss: No, often their employer goes for them.
Margaret Moran: Could we ask our posts in some of these countries exactly what their practice is?
Q168 Chairman: We could, we will write to the entry clearance manager in which countries in particular?
Ms Roberts: We will have to look back at our data and send it but definitely domestic workers are commonly not interviewed at all before they are issued their visas. We also have incidents of where domestic workers have applied to enter the UK as a domestic worker and that is quite clear from the interview notes, but they are issued a visit visa.
Q169 Mr Winnick: Is India one of the worst places?
Ms Roberts: We would have to check.
Ms Moss: It is very difficult to say. A lot of our clients are from India but a lot of our clients find us through word of mouth so it may just be the case that the Indian community knows about us more.
Q170 Chairman: What about Saudi Arabia?
Ms Roberts: We would have to look back at the figures.
Chairman: Would you do that; that would be very helpful indeed because in the cases that certainly I have dealt with every single person who wishes to come has always been interviewed, maybe because I am involved.
Q171 Mrs Cryer: You said that human trafficking should be made more of a higher priority by the local police, in line with what is happening on domestic violence.
Ms Roberts: Yes, definitely it should be and the police should be aware that people are trafficked for labour as well as for sexual exploitation, because in our experience the police do not see domestic workers as victims of trafficking or potential victims of trafficking, instead they see them as potential immigration offenders, so there is a severe need for awareness raising. Often it is quite shocking because not only are domestic workers approaching the police saying that their employers have taken their passport, we have many cases where missing person units contact us because employers have gone to the police saying that their domestic worker has escaped. Surely if an employer is approaching the police saying someone has escaped the police should ask a few questions about why that person would have escaped and why did they need to escape if they were here as a worker, but the police have not been taking a proactive approach in that way at all.
Q172 Mrs Dean: I presume from what you have said that you would like to see employers prosecuted for removing or retaining workers' passports.
Ms Moss: Yes, it is a really difficult issue but we would absolutely want employers to be prosecuted more, we would want the police to take it more seriously because often when we take workers to the police to report their passports as stolen we come back with loss reports because it is all they will give us, they will not report it as a theft. The difficulty is that the more difficult you make life for employers the more difficult they will make life for domestic workers and at the moment domestic workers can escape their employers and change employers. We would not want domestic workers put in a situation where their employer was so scared of the authorities that they would not allow that worker to escape.
Ms Roberts: The other issue is that domestic workers are often scared of going to the police because they are scared of threats being made to their families. Their employers have contacts with their families overseas so they are scared that if they prosecute their employers their families will be threatened or will have to pay for this, so that is something to bear in mind.
Q173 Mrs Dean: You mentioned earlier that those who do make contact with your organisation have usually heard about you by word of mouth; since domestic workers are very often very isolated what more can be done to spread the information about organisations such as yours?
Ms Roberts: One thing that could be done is for embassies to ensure that they do see domestic workers in person and give them information in their language about their rights in the UK and where they can go for help if they need to. Of course, that is not failsafe so another suggestion would be we know that many domestic workers when they come to us and they do not know anything about the visa on which they entered the UK, when we ask them did you never see your passport, they will say "No". We will say "What about when you went through immigration, did you not hold your passport then?" and again they will say "No, my employer held my passport even entering through immigration." Immigration officers should clearly be looking for instances where adults are not holding their own passports and in those cases they should pull aside the domestic worker and the employer and insist on interviewing the domestic worker separately. Although the domestic worker is likely to be too scared at that point to disclose anything, they could at least inform them about their rights and where they can go for help.
Ms Moss: It is important to add at this point though that the Home Office did at one point produce an information leaflet about domestic workers' rights that would apparently be given out by British posts abroad. Of the workers we have interviewed only 12% have ever seen one of those leaflets.
Q174 Chairman: Thank you, Mrs Dean. Ms Roberts and Ms Moss, thank you very much for coming to give evidence today. What you have said to this Committee is extremely helpful and we would like to thank you and your organisation for all the excellent work that you do on behalf of migrant workers.
Ms Roberts: Could I just add one point? We have made this point in our written evidence but it is very important. As we said in our written evidence under the points-based system for immigration to the UK the proposals are to remove the domestic worker visa as it stands and instead bring domestic workers under a domestic assistant visa, which may not even recognise them as workers in the UK although they are entering for the purpose of work and it will prohibit them from changing employers, so if they escape an abusive employer they are in breach of the immigration rules. We are very concerned about these proposals, therefore, which will undoubtedly facilitate trafficking of domestic workers.
Q175 Chairman: Under which tier will this be?
Ms Roberts: They will be brought in outside of the points-based system; it will not be within a tier.
Q176 Chairman: It is your concerns about the operation of the new proposals that the Cabinet has put forward.
Ms Roberts: Yes.
Q177 Chairman: We are going to start an inquiry into the points-based system in June of this year and we will make sure that that particular point is raised. Is that actually in the paper now?
Ms Roberts: No.
Q178 Chairman: It is proposed for later this year.
Ms Roberts: The proposals were given to Kalayaan in March 2006 and we were told it would be in the autumn of this year. We have raised our concerns with the minister who is currently conducting research into the exploitation of migrant domestic workers and then he will come back to us, but we are concerned that as it stands those are the latest proposals. Our recommendation is that domestic workers do remain outside of the points-based system but they come in with at least the existing rights and we would suggest that in view of the exploitation that happens they should have additional rights.
Chairman: I can give you this assurance: we are going to look at this in a major inquiry later this year and we will certainly make sure that that point is covered. Thank you very much for coming today.