MP Darren Jones recently showed off his painted nails in the House of Commons, claiming “perhaps as the first male MP in the chamber" to wear nail polish, in order to raise awareness of Modern Slavery in nail bars.

The MP for Bristol North West joined Avon and Somerset police officers who were using the #LetsNailit hashtag on social media to upload photos of both male and female officers with painted nails after relaxing their uniform policy to highlight the issue of modern slavery.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery or contemporary slavery refers to the institutions of slavery that continue to exist in the present day - slavery, servitude or forced/compulsory labour.

Most commonly, people are trafficked into forced labour in industries such as agriculture and construction with rates of slavery particularly high in nail salons and car washes.

Many women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation while others end up in domestic slavery.

Other victims are forced into crimes such as drug smuggling and theft - particularly children who are often deliberately targeted due to their vulnerability, with one in four victims being a child - while some are forced to beg and pass over to their captors what they have collected.

Prime Minister Theresa May called modern slavery “the great human rights issue of our time.”

Yet one in five people in Britain has never heard of modern slavery, and two-thirds are unaware of how to spot the victims of the crime, a poll recently conducted by British supermarket, The Co-Operative discovered.

Surely that doesn't happen in this country, right?

Wrong. There were at least 13,000 victims in Britain in 2014 although the anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has recently said this figure published by the Home Office did not match his research into the crime.

Instances which have cropped up in the media, albeit too subtly than what is appropriate for such cases, have highlighted the fact that slavery is thriving in the UK.

Last month, Britain's biggest slavery gang consisting of the Rooney traveller family were jailed for a total of 79 years for forcing men to work long hours tarmacking and paving driveways for no or little money, live in stables or decrepit caravans with no heating and water and use the woods as a toilet. The Rooneys spent the money their victims had accumulated on holidays and plastic surgery.

The family would single out vulnerable people such as homeless people, drug users, alcoholics, those with learning difficulties and those with mental health issues, supply them with drugs and alcohol and then promise them paid jobs, food and accommodation. Instead, they became modern-day slaves.

Meanwhile, a victim who worked at a car wash who was offered a shower by a first responder from The Salvation Army refused as he couldn't take his shoes off because the chemicals he worked with had fused them to his feet and they had to be surgically removed.

An entire young Polish family of victims whose parents worked as domestic help were also rescued recently after it was discovered they were "controlled psychologically" and had been surviving on a mere £10 per week, relying on food banks and soup kitchens while the perpetrator pocketed their wages and child benefit.

Nail Bars, which are known to be exploitative of their workers, may have tell-tale signs of slavery such as too-good-to-be-true prices, a refusal by technicians to be paid directly, abusive owners and managers and salons with living quarters connected to them.

Less obvious signs could include workers who appear very young or seem withdrawn and unwilling to engage and make eye contact with their customers.

One nail bar victim, for example, worked seven days a week for £30 while another was forced to hand over all of her money to her manager who locked her up between shifts.

Additionally, many of them may be vulnerable due to the fact that they don't speak English coming from other countries such as Vietnam, China and Pakistan.

What is the current response situation to modern slavery in the UK?

Recently, the number of victims receiving help has soared, in part thanks to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework for identifying victims of modern slavery and ensuring that they receive adequate support. Also thanks to NGOs, such as The Salvation Army, who refer adult victims of slavery on to government agencies.

The Home Office and special unit entitled UK Human Trafficking Centre receive these referrals and after considering a range of evidence, decide within 45 days whether they are truly victims needing help.

While Greater Manchester Police has been praised for its public engagement on modern slavery, police forces across the country are Failing to tackle the issue, according to a damning report released by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

Victims often remain unidentified and investigations are closed prematurely often because they are seen as too difficult along with some displaying the backwards mindset of dismissing modern slavery as being a rare occurrence which affects a disproportionate amount of communities.

Furthermore, there is seen to be a lack of sympathy from the public for the victims with the inspectorate being told in one instance that "The public view is, they are not our girls," with many people being treated as immigration offenders.

Though the Modern Slavery Act 2015 includes life sentences for traffickers, better protection for at-risk individuals, forcing firms to disclose what their procedures are for ensuring that their suppliers do not use slavery and investing £3m to stop the trafficking of women and girls which many victims find difficult to speak about and get help and support for, more needs to be done to raise awareness and spark dialogue about this somewhat taboo issue.

A march organised by anti-human trafficking organisation A21 last week saw 800 participants dressed all in black taking part in the Walk For Freedom, handing out flyers and covering their mouths with yellow bandannas to symbolise how slaves are forced into silence.

How do you spot victims of modern slavery?

When concerned about a potential victim of modern slavery, charity Anti-Slavery says you should look out for the following clues:

  • They appear to be in the control of someone else and are reluctant to interact with others
  • They appear frightened, withdrawn, or show signs of physical or psychological abuse and may have visibly untreated injuries
  • They may not be able to move around freely
  • They don't have any means of personal identification on them
  • They have few personal belongings, e.g. wearing the same clothes every day
  • They may be reluctant to talk strangers or the authorities
  • They are dropped off and collected for work always in the same way, especially at unusual times, e.g. very early or late at night
  • They have poor living conditions and may be living in dirty, cramped, or overcrowded accommodation and/or living and working the same address

How should you take action?

If you suspect someone may be a victim of modern slavery please contact 999 in an emergency.

Otherwise, you can contact:

  • Your local police non-emergency telephone numbers
  • Modern Slavery Helpline (confidential if you want) on 08000 121 700 or
  • Go to the Modern Slavery Helpline website which included a range of useful links and contact details