LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster has backed an anti-slavery campaign launched by Crimestoppers UK.

The #SlaveryonYourDoorstep campaign seeks to get anonymous information from the public to help potential victims as the numbers of people suffering under slave like conditions continues to rise in the country.

“The pandemic has affected vulnerable people disproportionally,” Nichols said. “This has led to more potential victims of human trafficking and exploitation.”

Nichols is the president of the Santa Marta Group, which was developed by the England and Wales bishops’ conference to bring together police chiefs and Catholic leaders from around the world to combat human trafficking. It is named for the hotel in the Vatican which serves as the residence of Pope Francis, where the group first met in 2014.

Crimestoppers says modern slavery exists – usually unnoticed – in several industries in the UK, including agriculture, construction, catering, the care sector, contract cleaning, hospitality, and in fishing, as well as being widespread within the sex industry.

The organization tells the public to look for signs of modern slavery, including people showing signs of injury, abuse and malnourishment; looking unkempt, often in the same clothing and with poor hygiene; appearing to be under the control and influence of others; living in cramped, dirty, overcrowded accommodation; not having access or control of their passport or identity documents; appearing scared, avoiding eye contact, and being untrusting; being collected very early and/or returned late at night on a regular basis, being  isolated from the local community and their family; and travelling only with other workers.

“Due to the hidden nature of this crime type, the number of victims being reported during lockdown has been low – however, as restrictions are relaxed and businesses, shops and factories reopen, we are likely to see a resurgence in this under-reported crime as the victims become more visible to the general public,” Crimestoppers said in a statement.

“We know that it can feel awkward or a bit embarrassing when you suspect but are not absolutely certain that modern slavery is happening. Its hidden nature makes it more difficult to spot. But sometimes, you’ll have a hunch that something is just not right,” the organization continued.

In a recent presentation on preventing forced labor and human trafficking, Kevin Hyland – the former UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and senior advisor to the Santa Marta Group – said those jobs deemed “essential” during the coronavirus lockdown – including health services, care homes, the food industry, and cleaning services – are also the ones most susceptible to modern slavery.

“Their contribution has received accolades from royalty, prime ministers and presidents alike, yet exploitation has continued and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“Responsibility needs to be accepted by governments, businesses, investors and communities, as when there is responsibility and accountability things change. So effective legislation and well- resourced policy implementation are crucial. If we lose sight of this scandal now, we will be failing people for many generations to come,” Hyland added.

Last year, more than 10,000 potential victims of trafficking, slavery and forced labor were identified across the UK. However, the Walk Free Foundation estimates the true number may be exponentially higher – they estimate there may be as many as 136,000 modern slavery victims in the country.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome