STAFF at Darlington’s biggest employer and the firms it contracts work to are being urged to be the eyes and ears of a drive to tackle modern day slavery.

Members of Darlington Borough Council, which employs more than 2,200 staff, will consider a ten-point proposal to help root out and prevent vulnerable people being targeted.

Councillor Marjory Knowles, who will propose the motion to a full meeting of the authority later this week, said the measures were intended to prevent the authority becoming associated in any way with modern day slavery and to raise awareness of the issue. 

The proposals include that the authority trains its staff to understand modern slavery and considers terminating deals with contractors for breaches of the Modern Slavery Act.

Other measures include the council challenging “abnormally low-cost tenders” to ensure they do not rely upon modern slavery, bolstering whistle-blowing and referring concerns about contractors to the National Crime Agency. 

Cllr Knowles said while Durham Police Crime and Victims’ Commissioner Ron Hogg was prioritising tackling slavery, recent incidents had highlighted concerns in Darlington. 

She said: “We thought we had got rid of slavery, but there is potential for it anywhere.

“It is important that the council’s staff and their contractors are aware of this.”

Official estimates suggest worldwide there are 20 to 30 million men, women and children being abused for criminal profit, with many victims forced to live and work in squalid conditions for little or no money and controlled by threats.

There are thought to be tens of thousands of modern day slaves in the UK, the majority of whom are women, lured from across eastern Europe and west Africa to the UK by the dream of a better quality of life.

The move follows a North-East chip shop boss who exploited vulnerable tenants by making them work for free at his takeaways being jailed for eight and a half years last month.

In May, a gang in Newcastle was jailed for a total of 40 years for raking in hundreds of thousands of pounds while their slaves lived on stale food in cellars below their homes.

Last December, in a raid supported by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, there were  several arrests at a car wash in Yarm Road, Darlington, as five men found working at the site were taken to a victim reception centre.

A month earlier, several people believed to be victims of modern day slavery were removed from Darlington properties as three men were arrested.

Anyone wanting to get help, report a suspicion, or seek advice about modern slavery can call the dedicated helpline on 08000-121-700.