Is your high street nail bar a front for organised crime?

Is your high street nail bar a front for organised crime? Gangs are using salons to launder drug money and hide child slaves, says Britain’s crime agency

  • Police say crime gangs are operating a network of Vietnamese nail salons
  • They are using shops to launder money from cannabis farms and prostitution 
  • The nail bars are also linked to illegal immigration, National Crime Agency says 

Organised crime gangs are operating a network of Vietnamese nail salons covering the whole of the UK, police have warned.

They are using the shops to launder money from cannabis farms and prostitution, and are moving child slaves between branches to avoid detection.

The nail bars are also linked to illegal immigration, the National Crime Agency says. It is currently carrying out 500 investigations into modern slavery. 

Vietnamese nationals are the second largest foreign group recorded as potential victims, after Albanians.

Organised crime gangs are operating a network of Vietnamese nail salons covering the whole of the UK, police have warned. Stock photo

Police warn many young Vietnamese arrivals are working long hours with little or no pay. 

And it is feared that dozens of children missing from council care have fallen back into the hands of gangmasters after being rescued from slavery.

Cash-only nail bars, which have sprung up around Britain in recent years, allow gangs to hide victims in plain sight, detectives say.

Adam Thompson, of the NCA modern slavery and human trafficking unit, said: ‘Nail bars are one of the most prevalent areas where we see Vietnamese victims, usually quite young adult males, around 18 or 19.

‘The gangs basically will recruit them from Vietnam. People will be told, ‘Come to the UK you will get a really good job, you will be paid lots of money which you can send back to your family’. They will then typically use the services of an organised immigration gang … up through China then Russia and into Europe and then into the UK – usually clandestine in the back of a lorry.

‘Then they will be linked up with the gangs in the UK who will put them to work in a network of nail bars.’

The nail bars are also linked to illegal immigration, the National Crime Agency says. Stock photo

He said gangs moved victims around the country, adding: ‘Some of these will claim to be children … they will go into social services care but then go missing quite quickly, re-appearing in other parts of the UK. Our intelligence suggests there are networks which operate across the UK which have links into quite a wide geographical spread.’

The NCA said cases of forced labour affect ‘every large town and city’ and in recent years there have been raids on nail bars in York, Berkshire and Torquay.

In Vietnam, the nail academy business is booming, with students eager to move abroad. 

It is not known how many Vietnamese nail salons there are in the UK, but more beauty and grooming salons opened on British high streets in 2016 than any other type of independent business, Royal Mail research found.

In Derby, there are five different nail salons within less than 500ft, all employing young Vietnamese workers and offering manicures from just £10, seven days a week. 

Payment is cash only and there is little interaction between clients and staff.

In 2017, a total of 5,145 people were recorded in the National Referral Mechanism as potential victims of slavery – 739 were Vietnamese, the third highest group after Albanian and British. 

Vietnamese nationals made up the highest number of victims of labour exploitation and there were 362 Vietnamese children referred, up from 277 in 2016. 

Figures released last year showed more than 152 Vietnamese children in council care had disappeared since 2015. Many went missing within two days. 

Anti-slavery charity Unseen advises nail bar customers to look out for staff who appear withdrawn or unwilling to engage, and are resistant to being paid directly. 

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