Human trafficking: Welsh councils may breach protocols
Some councils could be breaching UN and European protocols designed to protect victims of human trafficking, a BBC Wales investigation has found.
Fewer than a quarter of local authorities in Wales have specific policies on the issue.
This is despite the recommendations of a number of reports and evidence to suggest that human trafficking is a growing problem across the country.
Human trafficking is a lucrative global business worth around £20bn a year.
It is second only to drug trafficking in terms of profitability.
Despite this BBC Wales has found that 18 out of Wales' 22 local authorities do not have specific policies that look to tackle the issue of human trafficking and only three employ someone specifically to deal with the issue in their area.
Cardiff and Rhondda Cynon Taf have both policies and a lead officer to advise the authority. Newport and Wrexham have policies, and Monmouthshire has a designated employee for human trafficking issues.
Evidence suggests that victims in Wales work in domestic servitude, in nail bars, restaurants, cannabis farms, prostitution or food processing plants.
Some are even forced to become professional beggars. Most are treated as slaves.
Mike Lewis, chief executive of the Welsh Refugee Council, said: "It's a hidden problem. It's hidden in streets, it's hidden in communities, its hidden in rural communities. It's all across Wales.
"None of us should think it's not happening in our communities because sadly it really is."
Mwenya Chimba of BAWSO, a charity that works with victims of trafficking in Wales, said the group had supported cases in south Wales and north Wales.
Ms Chimba said: "If local authorities don't recognise trafficking as an issue, a problem in their area, it means that it's possible that people, potential victims, are being overlooked. Therefore they are not receiving the support they require."
A further report into human trafficking to be published this week by the Welsh Refugee Council says that "local authorities should identify a lead officer to provide support and knowledge to practitioners across the local authority on human trafficking".
BBC Wales has found that only three of Wales' 22 local authorities have done this.
But Ms Chimba said some councils did take the issue seriously, and there was some good practice in Wales.
In 2011 the Welsh government appointed an "all-Wales human trafficking co-ordinator" - the first and only position of its kind in the UK. However, the post is currently vacant.
The previous post-holder Bob Tooby recommended setting up a multi-agency intelligence hub to tackle the problem, but that has not happened yet.
Joyce Watson AM, who chairs the all-party group on trafficking in the Senedd, told BBC Wales the role was about to be filled when questioned as to why it had been left vacant for four months.
"We are taking [trafficking] extremely seriously because we as a nation are leading the way. There isn't another country in the UK that has such a post," she said.
She believes the proposed hub would be very useful to "those authorities that I suspect don't have the expertise or the knowledge".
In Anglesey local activists are concerned that Holyhead port is a gateway for traffickers to bring victims into Wales, and in some cases, on to the rest of the UK.
In response to BBC Wales' findings a Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) spokesperson said: "Combating this crime requires a multi-disciplinary and cooperative approach involving a wide range of UK organisations.
"While local authorities are not the lead agency for preventing human trafficking in Wales, they can play an important role in helping to identify and support victims locally, and where possible, in working alongside other agencies to seek a safe repatriation of those affected by this terrible crime."