Investigations are continuing after more than 20 people were detained during an inquiry into the suspected illegal supply of labour to businesses, including farms.
They include the arrest of a 30-year-old Indian male in Kent on suspicion of supplying workers without a valid licence.
The multi-agency operation was led by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) and HMRC Specialist Investigations. Police from Kent and Essex were also involved in raids on farms, business premises and residential addresses.
It is an offence to supply labour in the agricultural sector without a licence. If proven, the offence can carry a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Officers detained 20 individuals for suspected immigration offences. Various offences include the suspected serious exploitation of workers and substandard accommodation provided to employees.
During the arrest at the premises of the male £4,000 was identified in unpaid wages for workers for the period January and February. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority is in the process of ensuring that the retained wages are now paid to the workers. The arrested male was interviewed and bailed until 27 July 2011.
GLA chairman Paul Whitehouse said: “This was an excellent example of inter-agency cooperation.
“We shall continue to work with our partners across the country to ensure the fair treatment of workers and a level playing field for businesses. We shall also work to identify any evidence of forced labour, which may lead to further charges being brought.”
Unlicensed activity could often be used to shield serious exploitation of workers from the authorities, said Mr Whitehouse.
Ensuring the workers received their wages demonstrated the GLA’s commitment to their welfare, he added.
“We will not stand by and see the unscrupulous activity of gangmasters put low-paid workers at risk of going into debt, or debt bondage.”