TV chef reveals own experience of modern slavery for Merseyside charity’s new campaign

After appearing on Iran’s version of MasterChef, Armin Taghipour became an in-demand chef, landing TV cooking slots and culinary brand deals.

However, when he moved to the UK to take up a Head Chef role, his dream career became a nightmare. Armin was exploited and controlled by his new employer, and became a victim of modern slavery.

Armin has now partnered with Liverpool-based modern slavery charity Causeway, to produce a film sharing his story and highlighting that modern slavery can happen to anybody.

Between 1793 and 1807, Liverpool accounted for 84.7% of all slave voyages. Whilst slavery was abolished in 1807, ‘modern slavery’ is still prevalent today.

It is estimated that over 50 million people around the world are currently trapped in modern slavery, with more than 100,000 of those in the UK. In 2023, the number of modern slavery survivors in the North West referred to the government for modern slavery support increased by 10% on the previous year. It was the region in the UK with the highest number of referrals, after London and the South East.

In his home country of Iran, Armin Taghipour, 32, was a highly successful chef working at some of the country’s top restaurants. He rose to national fame when he appeared on reality TV series Dastpokht, known as Iran’s version of MasterChef.

With TV fame came brand deals and TV cooking slots, and soon Armin was receiving a flurry of offers and opportunities. One of the offers which came his way was to become a Head Chef at an independent hotel in the UK. With an interest in travelling and working abroad, and ambitions to further his culinary career and build on his TV fame in Europe, Armin accepted the position.

Arrangements began to be made for his move over to the UK. However, on arrival in the UK, Armin’s dreams took a dark turn, and his new role in the UK became a nightmare. Armin found himself being exploited, bullied and emotionally abused by his new employer, the hotel owner.

Armin recently completed the Ingredients for Life programme, a cookery course for modern slavery survivors run by the Liverpool-based charity Causeway, in partnership with Asda.

Causeway is one of the UK’s largest providers of modern slavery support, and Armin is sharing his story as part of their Survivors: Life Beyond Exploitation campaign. “I was made to work from 7am until 10pm, seven days a week. She paid me for my first two weeks in the job, but then she wouldn’t pay me. When I asked for my wages, she said she would pay me soon, but she never did. I had no money to live on, and she knew this.”, said Armin.

In a situation which Causeway say is very common, Armin’s employer also provided him with his accommodation and food. This put Armin in a particularly vulnerable position, with his job, accommodation and food all be reliant on his employer.

“She wouldn’t let me eat well in the kitchen. My accommodation was so bad and was so cold. I didn’t know what to do. I had nowhere else to go.” Even when Armin was able to go back to his accommodation to sleep, his employer would be calling him throughout the night. She would shout at him, telling him he should be preparing for his next day of work.

This eventually led to Armin developing severe mental health problems. “I had these thoughts that she is going to call again and I couldn’t sleep at all. She’d tell me that I’m nothing. Whenever I did sleep, I would have really bad dreams. I started getting lots of fears and anxieties. It was like a mental pain for me, like I was losing my personality.”

Armin’s skilled worker visa had been arranged by his employer and was linked to the job. Whenever Armin did try to speak up for better treatment, his employer threatened to have him deported.

“I didn’t know anything about this country or the law, and my employer took advantage of that. She was always like ‘If you don’t do this, if you don’t do that, I’m going to send you back to your country’.”

After a number of months, Armin saw that it wasn’t just him who was being exploited by his employer. Other colleagues who had been brought over from other countries to work at the hotel were also experiencing the same.

It is when Armin began discussing this with a colleague in a similar situation, that they both decided they had to do something to escape the situation. “I thought this isn’t a life. I tried to call everywhere I could to get help. I tried calling my GP, lawyers I found on the internet, and Citizens Advice.”

Citizens Advice advised Armin to make a complaint to the police. From there he was referred into the government’s National Referral Mechanism, who referred him on for modern slavery support.

“They said they would provide a safe house for me and that I could go and stay there and wait for the next decision which they would make for me.”

After receiving modern slavery support for a year, Armin has recently been in a position to move out of his safehouse to live independently in the community. He has also received a new skilled working visa which isn’t linked to his former employer, and is now determined to find safe employment and rebuild his dreams and career.

“I think people are going to be really shocked what happened to me. It could happen to anybody,” said Armin.

Causeway’s Ingredients for Life cookery course, which Armin took part in, provides modern slavery survivors with new skills, and a community to build friendships and self-esteem.

For those in the North West looking to access the course, or if you are a food business interested in becoming a delivery partner, please email ifl@wearecauseway.org.uk or visit www.wearecauseway.org.uk

Ben Greaves, Causeway’s Head of Anti-Slavery Services, said, “It has been a real pleasure getting to know Armin through his time on Causeway’s Ingredients for Life programme.

“We are very grateful to him for bravely sharing his own experience of modern slavery for our Survivors: Life Beyond Exploitation campaign.

“Modern slavery does not discriminate, it can take many forms, and is happening in towns and cities across the UK. Armin’s story demonstrates that anybody can be affected, and that modern slavery and exploitation can often begin with gradual, subtle steps.”

Lead image: Armin Taghipour

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