Rural businesses across Tayside and Fife will be visited by police to raise awareness of an increased risk of human trafficking and exploitation.
Police will pay visit to raise awareness of the issue after intelligence suggested that traffickers are targeting the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors.
Officers believe criminals are diversifying while many of the urban-based businesses usually associated with labour exploitation are closed due to lockdown.
Officers will ensure that these businesses are not being infiltrated by traffickers and that employees are not victims of exploitation.
They said the risks of exploitation as well as coronavirus for vulnerable victims were significant.
From today until June 27, local officers with support from colleagues from the National Human Traffic Unit, will visit farms, fisheries, food processing plants and other similar businesses to speak to the owners in Tayside Fife, Aberdeenshire and Dumfries and Galloway.
The industries will also be given advice on how they can support police in tackling modern slavery and labour exploitation.
Chief Superintendent Derek McEwan, Fife divisional commander, said: “We often associate human trafficking and modern slavery with cities and urban areas where it’s easier to hide victims of trafficking in plain sight.
“However, trafficking happens across all communities, both urban and rural.
“One of the emerging issues in Scotland is in relation to trafficking for labour exploitation.
“Lockdown has meant that the businesses usually associated with potential trafficking have been closed but traffickers are opportunists and will look elsewhere for chances to exploit people and to profit from their misery, regardless of the risks presented by coronavirus.
“We believe this may include targeting the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors where there is a higher demand for labour at this time of year.”
Mr McEwan added that the force is acutely aware that most businesses are ethical and did not want to employ people who were being exploited.
He continued: “Legitimate businesses will carry out due diligence but many will sub-contract the recruitment of labour and that’s where traffickers can infiltrate the supply chain into the industry.
“The risks are significant. Potential victims of trafficking are vulnerable, they may be unaware of the risks of coronavirus or they have no other choice but the put themselves at risk of exploitation by taking whatever work is available.”
Detective Superintendent Fil Capaldi, head of Police Scotland’s National Human Trafficking Unit, said: “The nefarious activities of human traffickers continue to pose a threat, even during this pandemic period.
“Organised crime groups will exploit any and all opportunities for financial gain, including labour exploitation and as such we are taking this opportunity to reach out to rural communities across Scotland to raise awareness of trafficking.”
Anyone with information about human trafficking or exploitation should contact police on 101 or call the modern slavery helpline on 08000 121 700.
You can also visit the modern slavery helpline website or report anonymously via Crimestoppers by calling 0800 555 111.