This week the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group (LEAG) met with the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland OBE, to discuss prevention of labour exploitation and access to justice for victims of trafficking in the UK. As part of our ongoing work to improve the relevance and effectiveness of anti-trafficking responses for vulnerable and exploited workers, the LEAG brings together experts from migrant community organisations, unions and homelessness organisations to share knowledge and ensure that the needs and experiences of vulnerable workers inform UK responses to human trafficking for labour exploitation.
Access to compensation for victims of trafficking was high on the agenda, as a crucial but often overlooked component in the recovery process for those who have been exploited for their labour. Claiming unpaid wages and compensation for harm caused to victims can provide an important sense of justice as well as the resources to stay safe and avoid further victimisation. Shifting the cost-benefit balance also acts as a deterrent to exploiters who must pay for their crimes. In the meeting FLEX legal officer Ainhoa Barrenechea presented the recent report Access to Compensation for Victims of Human Trafficking, highlighting existing barriers for victims of trafficking, such as lack of legal aid, lack of support with making claims, time constraints and lack of specific avenues for compensating victims of human trafficking for the crimes committed against them. The group discussed potential changes that could be taken forward to facilitate access to compensation for victims of trafficking for labour exploitation. These included improving existing avenues or introducing specific forms of compensation for victims of trafficking.
Preventing labour exploitation was also a key topic following on from LEAG’s recent publication of its position paper Compliance to Exploitation and the Abuses In-Between, which looks at the links between labour abuses and more severe exploitation. In the experience of LEAG members, if left unchecked, labour infractions can deteriorate into more extreme forms of exploitation, including instances of human trafficking or forced labour. In the meeting the group raised concerns that lack of information and awareness of labour rights for migrant workers means that abuses are too often normalised. Several members also identified lack of accountability in the supply chain as a key barrier to addressing abuse, as companies are able to deny involvement. The Commissioner stated that businesses must take responsibility for labour abuses and exploitation taking place in their supply chains, as they would for other forms of bad practice or other crimes.
The perspectives of victims of trafficking for labour exploitation, and the needs that affect their experience of identification and support, are at the heart of LEAG’s work both as individual organisations and collectively. LEAG’s work has sought to address the concern that victims’ perspectives are often missing from statutory responses, and this was also a theme present throughout the meeting. Informed consent for referral into the NRM, for cooperation with police, for support and for repatriation is crucial, and members highlighted several issues that in their experience impact victims’ ability to give informed consent. These included resourcing for provision of advice and information, the need to create a safe environment for disclosure, and the need for multi-agency cooperation in understanding and mitigating the risks of repatriation.