Council bosses have pledged to stamp out modern slavery and human trafficking in South Tyneside after giving the green light to a new policy.
Modern slavery can refer to a range of offences – from sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced marriage or forced begging to benefit fraud, domestic servitude and illegal adoption.
While trafficking involves an element of international border-crossing, it may also involve movement between different towns or localities.
South Tyneside Council is now among the first in the country to create a strategy to identify, prevent and tackle these types of crimes.
And on Wednesday, (May 15) the council’s cabinet rubber stamped the plan which aim to eliminate risks within the council and its supply chains.
Lead member for Resources and Innovation on the council, Coun Ed Malcolm, told the meeting that modern slavery “too often goes unnoticed and unchallenged.”
“Modern slavery victims can be any gender, nationality or age, victims can be hard to spot, they could be kept in properties or forced to work,” he said.
“Although South Tyneside has had no exposure to modern slavery in recent years, a recent Salvation Army report indicates that next to London, the North East region has one of the highest rates of modern slavery in the country with more than 200 victims identified in the region last year.
“It’s therefore vitally important that we envisage the threat and work with police and other partners to make the most of identifying and protecting victims.”
He added: “South Tyneside has many times expressed its commitment to make (the borough) inhospitable to those who would seek to engage with this horrific crime.
“The Modern Slavery Strategy seeks to put action behind this commitment and strengthen the council’s capacity to tackle slavery by identifying practical opportunities for the council to improve.”
In action, the policy will include checks around procurement procedures, policies around identifying and supporting victims, raising awareness of modern slavery and disrupting the activities of exploiters.
A whistle-blowing policy is also in place which supports council employees, contractors and partners to raise concerns.
Council leader, Iain Malcolm, in a written foreword in the published strategy, stressed that “tackling modern slavery is everyone’s business”.
“There ought to be no place for slavery in South Tyneside,” he said.
“By making it harder for perpetrators of slavery to operate, by raising community awareness of the signs of slavery, and by identifying and supporting victims who are being denied their rights, we can work restore the dignity of victims.
“We can work to make our community inhospitable to those who would seek to benefit from exploiting others.”
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service