The Anti-Slavery Collective in Conversation with Phil Brewer

While we stay at home and work from home, our co-founders, HRH Princess Eugenie of York and Julia de Boinville, have been catching up with some of our friends in the anti-slavery movement.

Our first conversation is with Phil Brewer, Former DCI of the MET Police Modern Slavery and Kidnap Unit and now an Advisor to STOP THE TRAFFIK. 

We speak to Phil about how STOP THE TRAFFIK are fighting modern slavery as COVID-19 changes the face of and sees a rise in exploitaiton. Traffickers can no longer profit from their victims in usual ways; many businesses commonly used in exploitation, like nail bars and carwashes, have closed. These criminals will adapt and take advantage of business whose attention is not focused on supply chain due-diligence.

But, just as COVID-19 has united the world, it has also united the anti-slavery movement. Phil tells us how people from across all sectors have come together to find ways to overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic. 


STOP THE TRAFFIK, utilising the power of people and technology, focus on preventing modern slavery and human trafficking through an intelligence-led approach. Through radical information sharing and collaboration, STOP THE TRAFFIK aim to build a global picture of human trafficking hotspots and trends, to empower individuals, organisations and agencies to make more informed and better choices, to signpost them to safe places to get help and support and to encourage appropriate response and reporting. 

Phil discusses STOP THE TRAFFIK’s work in The Fenlands, Cambridgeshire, which is a hotspot for labour exploitation in the UK, particularly of Lithuanian communities. Here, they are harnessing the power of social media and cross-sector collaboration to raise awareness of and spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Go to their website to find out more. 

Nail Bars and Car Washes

Nail bars have become regular features on our high streets across the UK. They have also become regular destinations for young women trafficked from Vietnam.It is believed that the 39 Vietnamese people found dead in a lorry in Essex last year were trafficked into the country to be exploited in nail bars, restaurants and cannabis farms

“Operating in plain sight, nail bars seem more improbable fronts for modern slavery; it is very hard to link such an innocuous service with such serious crimes.”

Amelia Gentleman, the Guardian.

Just like cheap nail bars, cheap car washes can also be hotspots for labour exploitation and modern slavery. People are forced to work long hours, for little or no pay, under the threat of violence and with no protective gear.

“Last weekend I drove past a car wash that was offering washes for £2.99. But there are drivers who are only interested in getting the cheapest wash. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Darryl Dixon, the director of strategy at the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) via the Guardian

As we mention in our chat with Phil, there are also apps you can download to report suspicions and help fight modern slavery and human trafficking. 

  • The Clewer Inititiative’s Safe Car Wash app is a tool that will enable the largest community intelligence gathering exercise ever attempted in the United Kingdom. The app will ask a series of questions related to the indicators of modern slavery and if there is a high likelihood that modern slavery is occurring in the hand car wash, you will be asked to report your concerns to the Modern Slavery Helpline.
  • STOP THE TRAFFIK’s STOP APP can be downloaded by anyone, anywhere in the world who has access to a smartphone. The app is anonymous, confidential and secure – it is available in seven languages and allows you to submit suspicious activity quickly by sending text based messages and uploading photos and videos. 

County lines

According to the National Crimes Agency, county lines is a situation of exploitation  “where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries (although not exclusively), usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs. The ‘County Line’ is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs.”

The Guardian recently reported that county lines exploitation continues in the UK despite national lockdown. We discuss the difficulties facing police in recognising and prosecuting this form of child exploitation on the rise in the UK.

What do you think?