LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Better known for trading in whisky than human misery, Scotland this week revealed it was a center of the modern slave trade, with victims holed up in craggy island outposts and big cities alike.
From nail bars to car washes, building sites to sex shops, the detailed geographical spread of victims was uncovered as part of a new campaign by the Scottish government to raise awareness and stamp out the problem.
“Human trafficking is an appalling abuse of human rights,” Michael Matheson, Scottish minister for Justice, said in a statement released on Tuesday.
“Generating awareness that the exploitation of adults and children is happening in Scotland today is key to bringing it to an end.”
Small, remote areas such as Fort William, Livingston and the Orkney islands were locations where victims of the crime had been identified over the last five years, along with the larger cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.
More than half of Scottish people surveyed said they did not believe trafficking was an issue in their area, despite it occurring in 27 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
Trafficking, which became a crime in Britain under the Modern Slavery Act of 2015, can be invisible, with victims often sexually exploited for profit or trapped in forced labor.
Its presence is growing in Scotland, with 150 potential victims identified in 2016, a 52 percent increase from 2013, according to the British National Crime Agency, which tackles organized crime.
Earlier this month, border authorities said up to 100 people suspected of being trafficked into Britain to work mainly in the sex industry had been refused entry at a Scottish airport.
The map, detailing the location of victims, is the first of its kind and is part of a wider strategy by the Scottish government to crack down on modern slavery.
“We will target those who control, abuse and exploit others by working collaboratively with partners to ensure that Scotland is a hostile environment to this sickening trade,” said Lesley Boal, a senior officer of Police Scotland.
Human rights groups welcomed the attempt to bring a largely hidden crime into the open and raise awareness about its local nature.
“We know first-hand the breadth and depth of this blight on society and how this is not isolated to any particular location in Scotland but covers significant areas, both urban and rural,” said John Merralls of Migrant Help UK, a British charity that works with victims.
The International Labour Organization estimates the global trade in people generates $150 billion of illegal profits a year.
Separately, the British government on Thursday announced a 7 million pound ($9 million) package to tackle the root causes of human trafficking in Nigeria, the fourth largest source of slaves trafficked into Britain.
The package will fund options for women and girls who are at risk of trafficking, help reintegrate victims into society and pay for broader humanitarian support, the government said.
Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org