You’ve heard all those nail salon horror stories about fungal infections, ingrown toenails and beaten-up cuticles — but you’ve never heard any quite as sickening as this.
Experts believe many nail salon workers are smuggled into the UK illegally by organised gangs of human traffickers — and forced to work in salons controlled by the criminal trafficking rings. These women, many of whom are Vietnamese, are made to work as “virtual slaves” during the day; then, at night, they’re sometimes forced to work as prostitutes or in the drug trade, the Daily Mail reports.
In the US, too, links between nail salons and human trafficking have emerged. In Ohio, a “multi-million dollar” human trafficking scheme operating out of nail salons was uncovered by 2010; Under that scheme, immigrants from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries were allegedly given laundered false identities and forced to work as “indentured servants”, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Other shocking allegations of slave-like nail salon conditions have emerged in California, as well as in Pennsylvania, where two women trafficked illegally from Vietnam were allegedly exploited in a “debt bondage” arrangement: they were forced to work in a nail salon, but every cent they made went back to their employers to pay for a pillow, blanket, and a bed in her home. Investigators say the women’s employer even forced them to get married so they could continue to live in the country as slaves, according to 6ABC.
Anti-Slavery International’s trafficking programme coordinator, Klara Skrivankova, says the false “promise of legitimate work is a typical ruse used by traffickers” to tempt women into these horrifying situations.
“Nail bars and beauty salons can also be the location of modern slavery as people are forced to pay back spurious debts to their traffickers,” she told Juliette Astrup in an article for the British Association of Beauty Therapy & Cosmetology.
“People often assume that trafficking only relates to forced prostitution, but people are also routinely trafficked into forced labour. Some will be forced to work during the day, in plain sight of the public, and in the evening they will be forced into prostitution.”
Frigteningly, Australia is not immune from these forms of exploitation.
Our “lucky country” is a destination country for victims trafficked from East Asia and South East Asia — particularly China, Korea and Thailand, according to humantrafficking.org.
Lured across international lines with the promise of a job and a better life, an estimated 3000 such people are currently enslaved through debt bondage or the like in Australia, according to the Walk Free Foundation.
Nail salons have been targeted by the Fair Work Ombudsman in Darwin for random audits because workers at such businesses “can be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their workplace rights or are reluctant to complain,” Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said in September.
The audits — which are not specifically targeted at trafficking, but are carried out to ensure employees are receiving their correct wages and entitlements — targeted the salons because they employ a significant number of overseas workers and employees for whom English is a second language, Ms James said.
How to recognise a trafficking situation.
Key red flags to look out for include employees living with their employer, individuals living in poor living conditions, a submissive or fearful appearance, and signs of physical abuse. If the individual lives with multiple people in a cramped space, cannot speak to you alone or gives answers that appear scripted and rehearsed, those are also cause for concern.
A situation where an employer is holding an invidual’s identity documents, or where the individual is unpaid of paid very little, should also raise the alarm.
To report human trafficking, you can go here; you can also dial 000 and report your information to police, and also call 131 AFP and give the same information to the Australian Federal Police Human Trafficking Team so they can follow up.
Employers and employees seeking information or advice are encouraged to visit here or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.
The Salvation Army has established and operates the country’s only Safe House for people who have experienced human trafficking, slavery or slavery-like conditions. You can find out more about that on (02) 9211 5794.