FLEX has published a briefing which explores the risks of exploitation and modern slavery faced by workers as a result of UK immigration policy and what needs to be done to address them to ensure workers are protected and treated fairly.
Today, a Bill which threatens to undermine fundamental workers’ rights is passing through its second reading in Parliament.
To commemorate Anti-Slavery Day 2022, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), respective Chair and Secretariat of the Taskforce of Victims of Trafficking in Immigration Detention, reflect on the Government’s treatment of survivors of trafficking and modern slavery; the harm caused by immigration detention; and the steps needed to address a broken system and ensure survivors are protected and supported.
News this week that the UK Government is expected to announce plans to increase immigration to address labour shortages comes as little surprise. Without migrant workers, many industries, including the UK’s agricultural sector, would not survive. Yet the UK’s planning for immigration to meet this need has been short-term and rushed, with little benefit from independent scrutiny or learning and little regard to ensuring a fair deal for workers.
A recent Guardian investigation has found new evidence of migrant workers being saddled with debts to get jobs on British farms. This isn’t the first such story and it won’t be the last; FLEX has been warning since 2018 that high upfront costs for visas and travel, and insufficient safeguards against recruitment fees, would lead to dangerous levels of debt – and with it, risk of exploitation – for workers on the UK’s Seasonal Worker Visa.
In July 2022, the US State Department published the 2022 edition of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. While the UK retained its Tier 1 status, i.e., that it is deemed as fully complying with the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, the TIP report lays out a number of serious concerns with the UK’s anti-trafficking system. Certainly, the strength of the criticism towards the UK, despite its close relationship with the US, points to a nation that is withdrawing from its international obligations on trafficking.
A new report based on research led by Nottingham Rights Lab in partnership with FLEX, the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has identified the factors that put live-in migrant carers at greater risk of exploitation and modern slavery.
The Government’s new draft Slavery and Human Trafficking (Definition of Victim) Regulations narrow the definition of a victim of trafficking and modern slavery, reducing the chances that victims will be identified.
FLEX is piloting a worker-informed human rights due diligence framework for service sector supply chains. This project will utilise meaningful worker-engagement methods to ensure that workers are at the front and centre in identifying risks and developing solutions to the issues that affect them. This will contribute to the efforts to prevent labour abuse and exploitation amongst outsourced workers in high-risk sectors.
In this guest blog for FLEX, Chris Williams, UK Fisheries Lead at the International Transport Workers Federation, discusses ITF’s recent briefing on the exploitation of migrant workers in the UK fishing industry through the use of transit visas, and what can be done to improve conditions for migrant fishers.