The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) was set up in 2005 after 23 Chinese cockle pickers were drowned by an incoming tide at Morecambe Bay. It exists to protect migrant workers in the agriculture sector.
Andrew Boff, leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly, says that the GLA has succeeded in restricting criminal activity, including human trafficking, in agriculture but that organised crime has instead moved its focus to the construction and hospitality sectors.
A report by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, published in August, said that 2,255 potential victims of human trafficking were encountered in 2012. Of these, 507 were victims of labour exploitation and of these 29% (145 poeple in total) were working in block paving/tarmacking, making a living going from house to house offering to re-pave driveways. A further 2% (11 people in total) were working in general construction. The most prevalent countries of origin were Romania, Poland, Nigeria, Vietnam and Hungary.
Andrew Boff has produced a report called Shadow City: Exposing human trafficking in everyday London. He says that while many people consider human trafficking to be about sex slaves working in brothels run by foreign gangs, it also exists in industries with casual labour forces, such as construction.
Mr Boff writes: “You can find workers experiencing no physical or sexual abuse, and whose ‘traffickers’ have largely kept to the terms of agreement. They will be being paid less than the minimum wage, working unremitting hours, and be in unreasonably high debt bondage to criminals. They will also still live in a state of anxiety relating to those they owe money to, or those they work with, or the British authorities due to their irregular immigration status. This makes human trafficking a grey area, not black and white as is commonly presented.”
Steve Murphy, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, backed the call for the GLA's remit to be widened. “There is growing evidence about the level of exploitation that exists in the construction industry," he said. "The common sense solution to end exploitation is for the GLA to be extended to construction as soon as possible.”
However, he noted that the government was actually reducing the powers and scope of the GLA as part of its red-tape cutting programme.