The true price of a fresh set

On the 23rd of October of this year, 39 bodies were discovered in a refrigerated trailer attached to a lorry in an Industrial park in Essex. All of the dead were of Vietnamese nationality.

A vast network of criminal gangs operate within the UK and Vietnam in order to lure vulnerable Vietnamese people into making the dangerous journey here, from their home country. Vietnam is developing rapidly however many of its nationals, especially those in rural areas, still live on extremely low incomes. Traffickers will pose as legitimate recruiters and promise a way out of poverty by offering jobs in the UK. It is estimated by the National Referral Mechanism that the third most common nationality of slavery victims in the UK, is Vietnamese.

Criminal gangs will enslave through different means, often nationals are promised lucrative sounding jobs in the UK whereas others are physically forced into travelling, often being drugged and abused. For those promised a better future and well-paying job, nationals will be expected to pay between £10,000-40,000 in order to make the dangerous trip. Most are unable to pay upfront for the journey, so their traffickers tell them they can pay off their debt by working for them.

These promises are of course lies told by those wishing to exploit other humans as commodities for their own financial gain. Those who have made the journey are often trapped into servitude for many years, for far longer than their initial debt. Enslaved, they are made all too aware of their illegal status, being told that the UK authorities will not help them. In addition to this, the victims will be subjected to threats of violence against themselves or their family back in Vietnam if they try to flee.

The type of labour these individuals are forced into varies, upon arrival in the UK both sexes are often forced into prostitution or taken to work on cannabis farms.  Other work includes working at car washes or in nail salons. Tragically, one of the dead found in Essex, 26-year old Pham Thi Tra My, is believed to have hoped to work for a nail salon in the UK. It is this type of forced labour I wish to focus on, asking;

What is the true price of a fresh set?

Early last year, three people were convicted under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 for trafficking two young Vietnamese girls to the UK and holding them as slaves working in ‘Nail Bar Deluxe’, in Bath. The girls, like Pham Thi Tra My, were brought to the UK in a lorry, but survived their ordeal. It emerged that they were working 60 hours a week, one was working for no pay and sleeping on a mattress in the attic of the home of their captor. The other was working for £30 a month, sleeping in a tiny room belonging to the same imprisoner

Although those involved in the lorry deaths have not yet been proved to be trafficking the deceased, it is my opinion that, had they survived, the Vietnamese nationals would likely have met the same fate as the girls in Bath. The driver, Maurice Robinson, has already pleaded guilty to assisting unlawful immigration but not trafficking, he will appear in Court again on the 13th of December.


So, what can you do to ensure that you are not unknowingly enabling modern slavery?


The most obvious sign is a low treatment price. Reputable nail salons will not charge less than £25 for a set of acrylics or under £20 for shellac or gels. Another sign to be aware of is the age of the worker, often children are targeted by traffickers as they are inherently more vulnerable. A further indication may be nervous workers who fail to make eye-contact or overbearing managers who treat their staff poorly and insist on handling money.

Another way to help combat the potential exploitation of people in nail salons is to demand tighter regulation. This can be done through writing to your MP. There have been calls to enforce this for some time, most notably by Kevin Hyland, former Anti-Slavery Commissioner. His report in 2017, recommended a licensing scheme which would require health and safety certificates and proof of bank account details of staff. The scheme was not implemented and subsequently no further checks have been imposed on nail salons. These could prove vital in ending modern slavery in these establishments.


The most shocking aspect of this crime is that the victims are being hidden in plain sight.
If you suspect modern slavery, it is important to contact the Police or contact the dedicated modern slavery helpline on 08000 121 700. If you want to remain anonymous, you can fill in an online form at