“Before Latvia became separate from [the Soviet Union] I worked as a factory supervisor, but after the Soviet Union was broken, the old factory was sold.
“Some man who was agency boss gave me advice. I sell my flat, he take all the money. He said I can stay and live in England and I believed him.
“And the reality when I just came to England: they take my passport, said I must pay them £10,000 back and I start working every day.
“They pay just 30p per day. They treat us like we are animals.
“We wake up 6am, they bring us back at 11pm. It’s gonna be in a field or in greenhouses but mostly in the field. And we always have penalty when we speak with each other.
“I remember I can’t pick the lettuce fast enough because I am scared from tractor that is behind me. Sometimes I broken some lettuce and every broken lettuce costs me £50 or more. So [I owe] this £10,000 and another £50 every day so… I think, ‘That’s it. I can’t do nothing.’
“I not have any winter clothes, just summer clothes, because I came in summer time. It was so cold and I got only sandals and it was raining, muddy. And I remember some English man [noticed something, and he] said something to my supervisor and they never take me in this farm again. They put me in a different farm and give me a jacket.
Could you help provide a warm, safe room for a survivor. Please help sponsor a room in one of our safehouses by donating now.
“And they just choose some people and just for them fun can say, ‘You can drink water from the puddle.’ And if you don’t want to drink they can broken all your body and everything.
“And when I have bad teeth, and I said I have pain, they said, ‘Never mind you have pain.’
“And another man have bad teeth too and they said, ‘You have pain?’ And they take this hammer and just remove all his teeth with the hammer and it’s all bleeding and I say, ‘I don’t want it!’
“I go to the toilet and take out this tooth by myself and afterwards I was scared it was gonna be blood infection and I told them, and they said: ‘Ocean is big. Your body can be food for fish.’”
As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.
For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.
I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.
In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.
What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.
But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.
I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.
This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.
When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.