Slavery was officially abolished in the UK in 1883, yet it’s estimated that there are twice the number of people forced to work as slaves in modern day Britain as in the 19th century, many in the beauty industry. Here’s how to spot it and raise awareness.

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Since 2015, the UK has seen a 17 per cent rise in human trafficking, both large scale and small scale, from organised criminal rings to domestic slavery. The escalation is thought to be linked to a rise in global conflict, but many people from all over the world are vulnerable and end up getting trapped in the modern slave trade. Modern Slavery charity Unseen  reports that victims of human trafficking in the UK originate from over 108 countries, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime warns starkly that “every single person will have come into contact with a victim of trafficking without noticing it.” That victim could well have done your most recent file and polish or pedicure, as slavery in UK nail bars is becoming a growing area of concern for anti-slavery campaigners and government authorities.

The UK independent slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland has identified beauty salons, and in particular nail bars, as hubs for human trafficking in Britain, and is calling for tighter rules and regulations in order to eradicate the abuse, neglect and exploitation of thousands of enslaved people. Vietnamese nationals are the most at risk where human slavery in nail bars is concerned, and many work for long hours for little to no money, and are often locked away or subject to further horrific abuse by way of the sex trade when they’re not being forced to work in salon. They often come to the UK under false pretences of earning a good living and improving their quality of life, after having paid traffickers enormous sums for transportation and relocation, only to arrive here and realise they’re trapped. It’s arguable that this form of slavery is even more hidden than the human trafficking involved in the sex trade, as it takes place in the clear light of day with many of us not aware of the issue, let alone suspicious that our technician could have been trafficked. A new initiative run by Unseen, however, aims to open our eyes to the issue of slavery in nail salons, call it out whenever we feel that something’s not quite right in a salon, and ultimately stamp it out.

The  ‘Let’s Nail It’  campaign, in association with BABTAC  (The British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology), is working with salons and the public to highlight the issue and encourage clients to recognise crime and report it. Many salons across the UK will be donating £1 from every nail treatment between 16th-23rd October to the Unseen charity, promoting a neon yellow manicure to highlight the hidden issue of slavery to be shared on social media accompanied by the hashtag #letsnailit. At-home manicure and pedicure app Le Salon  is also offering ‘The Unseen Manicure’, painting an accent nail with a yellow cross to indicate efforts to abolish human trafficking in the UK, with a £5 donation per service going to Unseen.

As for identifying slavery in nail bars, here are Unseen and BABTAC’s guidelines for what to look out for:

“What do employees look like?

Do they appear withdrawn and neglected or unwilling to engage? Do they appear younger than you'd expect? Are they avoiding eye contact, or is the presence or behaviour of another individual making them appear frightened? Are they resistant to being paid directly? Is there a manager who takes the money and is overbearing or abusive? Are there living quarters upstairs or attached to the nail salon? Are employees brought to work at the same time?

What do they sound like?

Do they seem hesitant to talk? Do they speak to others in the salon? Can they speak English? Being unable to speak English can increase people's vulnerability.

How do you feel?

It's difficult to quantify, but trust your gut instinct. Do prices seem 'too good to be true'? Is the vibe you're getting making you feel uncomfortable? If you can't quite put your finger on it but you feel that some of the above indicators are present, you can report suspicions to the Modern Slavery Helpline.”

If you need help, or you think someone may be a victim of slavery or exploitation, call the confidential UK modern slavery helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you do decide to book an Unseen manicure, you can use the wording: “I'm taking a stand against slavery in nail bars #spotthesigns and #reportit to @MSHelpline 08000 121 700 #letsnailit”. You don’t have to book a treatment to donate to support survivors of slavery either: Text LETS17 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 or get in touch with for more information. Most importantly, familiarise yourself with the warning signs if you’re a regular in UK nail bars, report anything suspicious and make informed choices about the beauty salons you visit.

Follow Unseen on Twitter  @unseenorg  and Instagram  @unseenuk  and Le Salon App on Twitter  @LeSalonApp  and Instagram  @lesalonapp