Police have arrested six people after a number of dawn raids as part of an investigation into modern day slavery in Newcastle.
An investigation was launched last year after Northumbria Police received intelligence about a suspected Lithuanian organised crime group understood to be operating in the city.
Enquiries led officers to a factory, believed to have been set up in the North Shields, where men were being trafficked from Eastern Europe to work across the region.
It is suspected that the men worked as charity bag collectors through a third party and that they would travel across Newcastle to collect donations of clothes.
They would then hand the clothing back to the factory where they are then sold overseas with a cut of the proceeds then expected to go to the charity in question.
Police believe those carrying out the work would be housed in shared accommodation and their wages and benefits would be controlled by their employers.
Officers have been working closely with partners at Newcastle City Council, Gateshead Council, HMRC, the National Crime Agency and a number of charities to gather intelligence on the group and their activities.
Six people have been arrested after a number of warrants were executed in the west end of Newcastle.
Superintendent Steve Barron, who is leading the operation, said 12 potential victims have also been safeguarded. He added that the operation is also part of the next stage of Sanctuary which looks to safeguard all manner of vulnerable people across the Northumbria Police area.
Northumbria Police believe the suspects in this case run a legitimate business that is then used as a front for the criminal activity that is being committed.
The business buy in thousands of the charity bags from aboard before distributing them to their workers who will hand them out to the public.
The clothing from the collected bags is then sold abroad and the company take a cut of the money. The charities involved would be completely unaware that many of the employees are potentially slavery victims.
HMRC are also running a separate investigation to establish whether any of the proceeds from the business are going to the charities in question.
Members of the public are asked to call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 when they are uncomfortable or believe a person may be at risk.