Is your manicurist a slave? UK anti-slavery drive helps public spot signs

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - If your nail treatment is too cheap to be true, your manicurist may be a slave. That’s the message behind a new campaign to help root out slavery in Britain’s nail bars.

The drive comes a month after Britain’s anti-slavery tzar Kevin Hyland called for tighter regulation of nail bars, which are known to exploit trafficking victims, particularly from Vietnam.

Anti-slavery charity Unseen is launching the Let’s Nail It! campaign to help nail bar customers spot and report signs of slavery.

Britain’s Vietnamese community has set up nail bars across the country. But experts say traffickers have piggy-backed off their success.

One victim quoted in a report by Hyland, the UK’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, worked seven days a week in a nail bar for 30 pounds ($40). Another trafficked as a minor was forced to give all his money to his enslavers who kept him locked up between shifts.

Unseen said indicators of slavery could include workers who appear very young, or who seem withdrawn and unwilling to engage with customers or make eye contact.

Other tell-tale signs include unfeasibly low prices, a refusal by technicians to be paid directly, overbearing or abusive managers who insist on taking the money, and salons with living quarters upstairs or attached.

An anti-slavery hotline, run by Unseen, has received reports of slavery in nail bars from at least 18 cities in the last year, indicating over 70 victims, 11 of them children.

Although most victims were Vietnamese, some came from other countries including India and China.

“People should trust their gut instinct. If the prices seem too good to be true, or if something is making them feel uneasy they should call the helpline or they can report it to the police,” Justine Currell, executive director of Unseen, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The campaign will launch next week in partnership with a beauty industry body, the British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology, to coincide with Anti-Slavery Day on Oct. 18.

Hyland has said Britain should look to the example of New York where the mayor has introduced controls on nail bars.

The government has estimated there are 13,000 victims of forced labor, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude in Britain, which has taken a lead in tackling the issue since passing the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.

Currell has suggested the figure could be the tip of the iceberg.