A SCOTTISH fishing firm is at the centre of a multi-agency human trafficking investigation after claims of workers earning as little as £100 for two-and-a-half months of work.

The company, which has not been named, operates sea-going vessels and is currently under the spotlight of both Police Scotland and other agencies, including the coastguard.

It is believed to be exploiting workers from several countries on fishing vessels. The inquiry, which has been under way for some time, has focused on Filipinos earning tiny wages. One man is understood to have reported to police that he was paid just £100 after ten weeks two and a half months.

Police Scotland’s deputy chief constable, Neil Richardson, has issued a briefing on the case to its ruling civilian board, the Scottish Police Authority.


The Herald: Neil Richardson

He said: “An operation is targeting a fishing company suspected of trafficking and exploiting victims from several countries.

“The nature of the investigation requires close working between Police Scotland, Maritime & Coastguard Agency, Marine Scotland, the Crown Office and other UK police forces.”

Marine Scotland is the Scottish Government body that monitors the fishing industry, including fishing protection units.

The police do not usually comment on live investigations and Mr Richardson’s briefing underlined the importance of the case.

A spokesman for the force said: “As this inquiry is live it would be inappropriate to make any further comment other than this is indeed a multi-agency human trafficking enquiry.”

The Irish government in November announced a task force to tackle human trafficking and exploitation of African and Asian workers on trawlers out of its ports.

Human rights groups have long warned about the pay and conditions of undocumented foreign workers at sea – way beyond the eyes of public services.

An investigation into Irish whitefish and prawn fisheries found widespread abuse of workers.

Some workers interviewed by The Guardian said they were not allowed to go ashore without permission from their skippers, were paid less than the minimum wage and had to work long hours without sleep.

Other workers complained they were being cheated of their wages. Skippers, meanwhile, said that their crew were self-employed contractors and were not subject to Irish or EU laws.

The UK’s anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has said tackling trafficking or exploitation in Atlantic fisheries is one of his priorities. Mr Hyland, in November, confirmed Police Scotland, as well as Ireland’s Garda, was among the agencies his office were working with to draw up a concerted action plan on such crimes.

Scotland’s fishing industry is far bigger than that of England and Ireland combined.

Previous investigations into human trafficking or illegal gang-mastering of foreign labour have focussed on the beach shell collectors. This was highlighted after at least 21 undocumented Chinese workers died while picking cockles in Morecambe Bay, just across the Solway Firth from Dumfries and Galloway.

Police Scotland has also prioritised human trafficking for the vice trade. In his report to the Scottish Police Authority, Mr Richardson also highlighted a successful operation to rescue a teenager, identified as being from an unspecified eastern European nation, from prostitution in Edinburgh. The young woman, who was under 18, was found after a major exercise by police in the capital to raise awareness of human trafficking in the housing sector. She has been taken in to care and provided, Mr Richardson said, “with appropriate support”.