An undercover investigation by BBC Wales has revealed the extent of labor exploitation and human trafficking in the UK.
There has been a 300% increase in the number of trafficking cases since 2012, with traffickers targeting those who are vulnerable, particularly migrant workers.
The BBC secretly filmed as car wash and construction workers were offered work for far below the minimum wage. Workers from eastern Europe are often those exploited, and the BBC had the chance to film inside a Czech court when two men — Roman Feko and Ladislav Fedak — were jailed for trafficking four men to Wales.
The BBC notes that this was a rare instance of international police cooperation leading to a trafficking conviction:
Feko and Fedak deliberately targeted homeless and vulnerable men, sleeping rough or at railway stations, trafficked them to south Wales and put them to work in cleaning jobs for little or no money.
One victim, a father in his 40s who asked not to be identified, told me he had been bought by the traffickers and was essentially now their property.
“I learned that Feko had actually bought me,” he says. “I realised he’d bought me like a piece of furniture.
“When Feko himself told me he had bought me for 700 Euros so I should behave in accordance with that, what I did is that I got drunk and I tried to commit suicide.
“I jumped off a bridge and I woke up in hospital where I talked to the police.”
Incredibly, that conversation led to South Wales police discovering that Feko had been convicted twice for ordering murders back in the Czech Republic. Yet he still managed to come to the UK and run businesses in the Welsh capital.
Former South Wales Police Det Ch Insp Tudor Thomas, who led the investigation, said “This is an organized crime group, part of that group were based here in Cardiff, the other part in the Czech Republic.”
An undercover BBC reporter also went to several car washes in south Wales, where he was offered £30 for a 10-hour day — far below the minimum wage.
Chief Constable of Gwent Police Julian Williams, the All Wales Lead on Modern Slavery, stressed that the public needs to be conscious of why some services are so cheap.
“I’d ask people to ask themselves if it takes six or seven individuals a quarter of an hour to clean your car, for five pounds – are they getting the minimum wage?”