By Sarah Shearman
LONDON, June 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British retail bank HSBC UK launched a scheme on Monday to help victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in Britain "rebuild their lives" by giving them access to bank accounts.
The bank, part of the London-listed global finance group , said it had been working with law enforcement and charities to identify people who have escaped slavery and trafficking to whom it can offer its "Survivor Bank" service.
Banks usually require proof of address and identity documents, like passports, to open accounts, which can exclude victims of slavery and trafficking who may have had these documents confiscated or live in safe houses.
"Financial independence is a vital part of this rebuilding process," Victoria Atkins, Britain's minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, said in a statement.
The service is believed to be the first of its kind in Britain and could potentially be expanded to other countries, a spokeswoman for HSBC told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Trained staff in 18 of HSBC's UK branches in areas identified as having "high potential need", including London, Birmingham and Manchester, will help the victims set up current accounts.
Britain is home to at least 136,000 modern slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by human rights group the Walk Free Foundation - a figure 10 times higher than a government estimate from 2013.
Survivor Bank will be offered to people who have been identified through the government's National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a scheme that identifies victims and gives them support.
About 7,000 suspected slavery victims were identified in Britain last year, up a third on 2017, with labour exploitation the most common form of slavery, ranging from men working in car washes to children forced to carry drugs.
"It is a tragedy that people who have escaped their traffickers can face such a struggle to rebuild their lives," Stuart Haire, head of HSBC UK's retail bank, said in a statement.
The scheme was piloted in HSBC branches in Glasgow in Scotland, and Nottingham in central England, between June 2018 and March 2019, helping 24 people set up basic bank accounts, with debit cards and online banking.
Banks have been called upon in recent years to step up the fight against human trafficking and slavery by reporting suspicious transactions and other financial activity that ring alarm bells.
Financial institutions hold data on traffickers and their victims that could play a vital role in combating trafficking, found a 2017 report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
(Reporting by Sarah Shearman @Shearmans. Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)
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