POLICE have urged businesses to watch out for signs of modern slavery at a conference in Swindon.

Guest speakers at the event at Jury's Inn included Shayne Tyler, head of operations for a fresh produce supplier, whose former employer was unknowingly using more than 200 illegal workers back in June 2000.

The factory was exposed by BBC Panorama, and since then he has identified and tackled numerous examples of worker exploitation.

Speaking to the audience of business people Shayne told them: “I’m still dealing with that day. I carried a lot of demons, but I’ve also helped a lot of people.

“If you don’t take any action I can tell you the impact of it will have on you will last years."

He also told them how the firm was infiltrated by gang members who became supervisors, enabling them to hire the workers for as little as 17p an hour.

"If they can get into your business they can control it that way," he added.

Det superintendent Jeremy Carter from Wiltshire Police said focusing on businesses was vital for securing convictions of gangs.

He told the Advertiser: "I see our business community as being absolutely essential in tackling modern slavery.

"It is after all based on business models and the people who know most about business are the people in that community.

"The conference was very much around explaining to people the signs and symptoms around modern slavery and what they can look out for in their own workforce and in greater collaboration going forwards.

"Modern slavery is organised criminality in its most sophisticated form. As with any other business they adopt and evolve to changes in the community so they can maximise their profits.

"So it's essential we work in partnership with people that may be targeted by those arranging and organising people into slavery and to gather that information.

"There are many pieces of legislation open to us to act upon. What we obviously need is the information to be able to do that. We encourage anyone to come to the police with any concerns they have, either through the 101 number, or more specifically the modern slavery helpline which is 0800 0121 700."

Home office figures, based on the National Referral Mechanism data, estimates there are around 10,000 to 13,000 victims of modern slavery currently being exploited in the UK.

Hilary Agg, from the Bristol-based anti-slavery charity Unseen, said the figures are likely to be much higher.

She said: "Modern slavery actually affects every element of our society, we need the public on board, local authorities, the government, but we also need businesses to be a frontline of defence to identify where there might be a risk of modern slavery within their supply chains.

"Unless people are aware and they know where to go then we are always going to be falling behind the traffickers.

"We've seen how personally business owners can be affected, but we all walk past the car washes, but don't actually stand up and ask the question a lot of the time.

"I certainly wouldn't point the finger at businesses, it's something we all need to work on."