BUSINESS owners and the general public in Helensburgh and Lomond are being warned to stay alert to the signs of human trafficking amid fears that Brexit could lead to workers being exploited.

The Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) is advising businesses to stay vigilant as a decline in the migrant workforce may lead to an increase of human trafficking to fill gaps.

Two teenagers, both believed to be victims of human trafficking, were found in separate raids on a nail bar in Helensburgh town centre in May and September of 2017.

The incidents were two of 692 human trafficking crimes detected by police across Scotland since 2015.

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David MacCrimmon, SBRC’s serious organised crime and counter terrorism lead, who has been seconded from Police Scotland, said: “The UK is still seen as a desirable place to come for employment opportunities, and this can lead, as it has previously, to criminal gangs exploiting people as they’re put to work, often in horrendous working and living conditions.

“We must open our eyes to this, not just the eyes of the public, but the eyes of the business community.

“We need to be able to spot the signs of potential victims of human trafficking and know what to do and who to call should we encounter victims.

“Victims of human trafficking are often hidden in plain view, and there are many examples of that, whether it has been cases of cleaners in large office blocks, workers in hand car washes in our towns and cities, or those working on our high streets in nail bars and other shops.”

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There was a 42 per cent increase in trafficking related referrals from 2016 to 2018 – yet a survey from the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy revealed that 54 per cent of people do not believe it’s an issue in their local area.

Mr MacCrimmon continued: “We associate moving victims about with smuggling, and the two are entirely different things.

“Yes, sometimes victims of trafficking are moved about from place to place in cars, vans and trucks, but often this is done in plain sight too.

“Many victims of trafficking can simply be told to go from one destination to another by bus or train. They are often given tickets to do so, and frequently there will be someone to meet them at the other end, to take control of them.

“This control can be through fear and intimidation, through threats of violence or actual violence, or simply as part of a debt.

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“Whether you are working in retail, or in a large office block or a venue, if you work on the transport infrastructure, the train stations or bus stations, if you travel yourself on public transport, or are a driver in the haulage industry, if you spot something that’s not right, if you see someone that you feel may be the victim of human trafficking, someone who is displaying the signs of being a victim, report it to the police immediately.

“Human trafficking is not just a crime, it’s a human rights violation, and we need to do our bit to support the victims.”

Signs of human trafficking can include the appearance of neglect or physical neglect; signs of poor nutrition; a withdrawn or submissive attitude; old injuries, or people being vague about how they sustained an injury; excessive working hours; and distrust of people in uniform.