A Modern Slavery Scandal: How Criminal Gangs Force Women and Children into Shoplifting in the UK

retail shoplifting. man stealing in supermarket

retail shoplifting. man stealing in supermarket

Shoplifting is not a petty crime, but a form of modern slavery that affects hundreds of women and children who are trafficked into the UK by criminal gangs. 

These gangs, which have links to drugs, firearms, and human trafficking, exploit their victims by forcing them to steal high-value items from various retailers across the country. The victims, who are mostly from Eastern Europe, are lured by promises of higher wages and community support, but end up living in fear and debt bondage.

The Scale of the Problem

According to the latest annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report issued by the US State Department, labor trafficking, which includes forced criminality such as shoplifting, is the most common form of exploitation among adults and children in the UK. The report also noted cases of “perpetrators forcing victims into shoplifting” in Northern Ireland. 

The British Retail Consortium estimates that shoplifting cost retailers £953m last year, with a 25% rise in reported incidents. Retailers Against Crime (RAC), a national crime detection and prevention NGO, said it was tracking 56 groups that are using shoplifting to fund organized crime.

The Modus Operandi

The BBC revealed last month how these gangs operate, based on hours of CCTV footage and police information. The gangs target cosmetics stores, where they steal keys to the cabinets where fragrances, face creams, and cosmetics are stored. Groups of five to seven people, mostly women and children, open the drawers and fill their bags with high-end goods, while male members remain on the lookout. One company in Scotland identified a 154-person gang that travels across the UK stealing items in bulk to sell or ship abroad.

The Response

The UK government and law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on these gangs, arresting members across several cities, such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Darlington. The National Crime Agency (NCA), the UK’s agency focused on organized crime, said that British nationals are the most commonly identified victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK, followed by Albanian, Vietnamese, Romanian, and Indian nationals. 

The NCA also said that it was working with international partners to disrupt the trafficking networks and protect the victims. The victims, who are often in the UK undocumented or have overstayed their visas, are offered support and assistance by various NGOs and charities, such as the Salvation Army and the Modern Slavery Helpline .

About Wiz Writer

Wiz writer is a regular contributor to the workers' rights. Blogger, writer, strategist, and Passionate about making a dent in the digital universe.

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