Window cleaners, taxi drivers and hotel receptionists could hold the key to freeing those trapped in the misery of modern-day slavery.
Police believe that small business owners and independent traders could be best placed to help victims escape the exploitation by spotting the tell-tale signs on the doorstep.
It is hoped that around 50 representatives of local businesses will attend a conference at the Riverside Cricket Ground in Chester-le-Street on Monday, March 18, from 1pm-5pm at which experts will spell out the scale of the problem and what can be done to tackle it.
The “Modern Slavery Is Closer Than You Think” conference, sponsored by Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner and Durham Constabulary, will feature guest speakers from a variety of organisations including the national modern slavery helpline, the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority and charity Changing Lives.
Organisers hope that the event will help local businesses learn how to identify modern slavery, report their concerns and better understand the nature and scale of the problem in our area.
Typically, modern slavery features illegal exploitation, which the victims feel they have been coerced into and cannot escape – for example forced labour, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or cannabis cultivation.
Across the country, it is estimated that incidents of modern slavery have increased by 17% since 2015.
Detective Inspector Tonya Cook, of Durham Constabulary’s Serious and Priority Crime Team, said: “The conference is designed to raise awareness of the problem in the community and encourage reporting of the issue to the police.
“Modern slavery may not be very visible, but it is closer than you think.
“Local businesses have a crucial role in helping us gather intelligence and respond to areas of concern.
“Those businesspeople who go to people’s front doors – the taxi drivers, the mobile hairdressers or the milkmen – can make all the difference by reporting their concerns to the police.
“Hotel receptionists in particular are perfectly placed to spot the signs of sexual exploitation”.
Places at the conference are free, thanks to funding from the Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner, but must be booked in advance.
To book a place, please email [email protected] no later than 5pm on Wednesday, March 13.