More needs to be done to tackle the abuse of migrants by underground criminal networks, but a new report exposes how local corruption facilitated and ignored exploitation in Leicester East.
Thousands were discovered to be working in unhygienic and overcrowded conditions, some forced to work whilst exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms. Many were found to be living in squalid conditions with up to 30 people living in one house.
A report released on Friday by the Centre for Social Justice has revealed that the exploitation of these workers is facilitated by underground criminal networks, overseen by local authorities that are supposed to protect these individuals from abuse.
Corruption was found to operate in every part of the constituency of Leicester East: authorities including the police, the electoral roll, the fire brigade, and local councillors were all implicated. The corruption is so entrenched that one witness described the constituency as the ‘Al Capone Mafia State’.
'What has been created is a lawless state with corruption at every level — getting passports, immigration status, even false driving licences. Far too little has been done — and alongside these are benefit fraud, VAT evasion and money laundering, all opening the door to voter fraud', writes Ian Duncan Smith MP in the Telegraph.
The report reveals that local MP Andrew Bridgen tried repeatedly to blow the whistle on this corruption, reporting it to the National Crime Agency, Parliament and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.
One of his informants in Leicester had approached the council with her concerns about unsafe working conditions, but 'they sent her packing'.
According to the CSJ, evidence showed that this problem is not just happening in the Leicester fast fashion industry; slavery-like conditions are 'rife in other areas and sectors.' The CSJ recently uncovered a similar case in Leeds, demonstrating that Leicester is unfortunately not unique.
The CSJ conclude their report with a sobering remark:
'The evidence we have amassed...has convinced us that only through root and branch reform of this corrupt system can we restore rule of law, fair labour conditions and dignity to the exploited.'
According to a report released just last month by Justice and Care, there are at least 100,000 men, women and children in slavery in the UK who are being failed by the support system at present.