A crime-fighting chief charged with going after people traffickers reached out to agencies in Hartlepool to help raise awareness of the issue.
Steve Knight from the national Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) told of the hidden scale of the problem when he attended a meeting of the Safer Hartlepool Partnership.
He appealed for agencies on the partnership, including police, the fire service and Hartlepool Borough Council, to let him know of possible people exploitation happening locally.
Mr Knight told the partnership: “It is probably going on in every major city and region in the UK.
“It is going on, you have just got to scratch he surface.”
He played a hard-hitting video based on real investigations which told how foreign criminals from places like Eastern Europe, bring people to Britain and control them by keeping them in debt, while making thousands in state benefits in their name claims which the gangmasters keep.
He said: “They’re enticed over on a false promise and then before they even get here they’re in debt bondage so they already owe on average £1,000 to £2,000 pounds, and of course by then it’s too late.
“These sort of people don’t speak English, they’re frightened to go to the police because of corruption in their own country so they are not capable of approaching people in authority.
“Before you know it the females are getting separated and they end up in the sex industry and the snowball just gets bigger.”
The presentation revealed how up to 12 people are housed in run-down three-bed properties and controlled by violence and threats towards their families back home.
Chair of the Safer Hartlepool Partnership Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said multi-agency working was key to tackling the issue.
He said: “The majority of people aren’t aware even now that this goes on.”
Mr Knight said car washes were one of the main industries linked to modern day people abuse.
Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged £33.5 million and a new taskforce to tackle modern slavery and labour exploitation.
Earlier this year the GLAA was given new police-style powers.
Chief executive Paul Broadbent said: “Modern slavery is abhorrent; it is described by the Prime Minister as ‘the greatest human rights issue of our time’. Much of it is controlled by organised crime gangs who have links to drug smuggling, and gun violence.”