BREXIT could lead to workers being exploited and businesses across the country have been urged to remain on the lookout for signs of human trafficking as the October 31 deadline looms.

The warning comes from the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC), which said that firms should stay vigilant as a decline in the migrant workforce could lead to an increase in human trafficking to fill gaps. It said victims could be “hidden in plain view”.

David MacCrimmon, who is on secondment from Police Scotland as SBRC’s serious organised crime and counter terrorism lead, believes criminal gangs could infiltrate Scottish businesses and make money from people they put to work.

“The UK is still seen as a desirable place to come for employment opportunities, and this can lead to, as it has previously, criminal gangs exploiting people as they’re put to work, often in horrendous working and living conditions,” he said.

“We must open our eyes to this, not just the eyes of the public, but the eyes of the business community. We need to be able to spot the signs of potential victims of human trafficking and know what to do and who to call should we encounter victims.

He continued: “Victims of human trafficking are often hidden in plain view and there are many examples of that, whether it has been cases of cleaners in large office blocks, workers in hand car washes in our towns and cities, or those working on our high streets in nail bars and other shops.”

Figures released earlier this year showed that 692 human trafficking crimes have been detected by police across Scotland since 2015. There was also a 42% recorded increase in trafficking-related referrals from 2016 to 2018.

However, a survey from the Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy revealed that 54% of people did not believe it was an issue in their own local area.

MacCrimmon said that hiding human trafficking victims in plain sight can also mean they have to be moved them around different locations. He said: “We associate moving victims about with smuggling, and the two are entirely different things.

“Yes, sometimes victims of trafficking are moved about from place to place in cars, vans and trucks, but often this is done in plain sight too. Many victims of trafficking can simply be told to go from one destination to another by bus or train.

“They are often given tickets to do so, and frequently there will be someone to meet them at the other end, to take control of them. This control can be through fear and intimidation, through threats of violence or actual violence, or simply as part of a debt.”

SBRC said that there were several indications that people could be human trafficking victims. These include old injuries, or being vague about how they came about the injury in the first place, excessive working hours and a distrust of people in uniform. They might also have signs of poor nutrition, or be withdrawn or submissive, with an appearance of neglect.

MacCrimmon added: “Whether you are working in retail, or in a large office block or a venue, if you work on the transport infrastructure, the train stations or bus stations, if you travel yourself on public transport, or are a driver in the haulage industry, if you spot something that’s not right, if you see someone that you feel may be the victim of human trafficking, someone who is displaying the signs of being a victim, report it to the police immediately.

“Human trafficking is not just a crime, it’s a human rights violation, and we need to do our bit to support the victims.”