The recent story of the death of 39 migrants found in a refrigerated truck in Britain has reignited calls for efforts to tackle slavery in the nail bar sector, a common destination for trafficked Vietnamese.
While the case is still under investigation, most of the people discovered in the truck are believed to be from Vietnam, one of the top source countries for victims of modern slavery in Britain.
It is well documented that some Vietnamese – lured to Europe by promises of lucrative jobs – end up exploited in illegal cannabis farms and cheap nail bars which have proliferated across the country.
Although many nail bars set up by Britain’s Vietnamese community are legitimate, experts say traffickers have piggy-backed off their success.
Anti-slavery charity Unseen said labour exploitation at beauty salons was the second biggest concern after car washes for callers to its hotline last year, with 477 potential victims.
Britain’s anti-slavery chief Sara Thornton said on Tuesday that most recommendations made by her office in 2017 on tackling the issue – including regulation of nail bars – had not been implemented.
In 2017, Britain’s former anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland called for tighter regulation of nail bars in a report on combating trafficking involving Vietnamese nationals.
One victim quoted in his report worked seven days a week for 30 pounds ($40). Another had to give all his money to his enslavers who locked him up between shifts.
Hyland said Britain should look at New York which had introduced controls on nail bars.
The British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (BABTAC) said there was an urgent need for regulation, ideally by an independent industry body.
BABTAC, which launched a campaign two years ago with Unseen to raise awareness of exploitation in nail bars, said it would also like to see a mandatory code and labour inspections.
Tell-tale indicators of exploitation in nail bars include unfeasibly low prices, workers who appear very young or are unwilling to make eye contact, and overbearing managers who insist on taking the money.
Women questioned on the streets in London said they were aware that exploitation was an issue in nail bars.
“I always make sure they look happy,” said banker Sonia Patla, 31. “You notice the ones who aren’t happy, who aren’t talking. Also if the prices are too cheap it makes you wonder why they’re so cheap.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)