According to Kevin Hyland, the UK's independent anti-slavery commissioner, Vietnamese teenagers are being used as slave labor on illegal British cannabis farms, and the police are not doing enough to stop it.
Over the past decade, police have uncovered a human trafficking route that brings teenagers from Vietnam to the UK every year. Many of the women are forced to work in nail salons or the sex trade, while young men are often forced to become marijuana cultivators on hidden grow-ops.
Hyland said that British police have “not pushed forward with the urgency I would expect” to stop the traffickers. One issue that the commissioner pointed out is that police do not do enough intelligence gathering when they bust cannabis farms. “There is an easy opportunity for a prosecution of the person who is the cultivator,” he said, but not enough resources are spent on searching for the heads of the operations.
When cannabis farms are busted, police drop the charges against anyone who has been forced into slave labor. These individuals are often sent to immigration detention centers or into child protective services. These victims are also registered on a National Crime Agency register that attempts to ensure that they receive support, but Hyland said that police are not using this registry to its full effect.
“That rich bank of intelligence from the people who have suffered is being marginalized and almost being treated as irrelevant,” he said. “In simple terms, it is a mess.”
It is now believed that a significant portion of illegal British pot comes from these slave labor operations. “Most people who are using cannabis might know that it is funding some sort of criminality, but do they know the suffering at the end of that?” Hyland said.
“People need to think very carefully that while it may be seen as a recreational drug, behind it could be wholesale abuse of young people and children who have got no freedom and no choice.”