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New Project: Preventing Exploitation in the Cleaning Sector

February 14, 2022

Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) and the East European Resource Centre (EERC) are launching a new project to help prevent labour exploitation in the UK’s cleaning sector. The project, a two-way learning exercise delivered in collaboration with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), will work with cleaners and community organisations across the country to improve understanding of the complexity of labour exploitation in the cleaning sector and foster collaborations between supporting organisations and labour market enforcement.

This prevention initiative departs from the understanding that labour exploitation often happens in formal sectors of the economy, where workers’ experiences vary from decent work to labour abuse, through progressively more serious employment rights violations, to the most severe forms of exploitation, which in the UK are categorised as modern slavery.

In the case of the cleaning sector, evidence shows that employment rights violations are widespread. A recent FLEX report, based on 134 responses from cleaners, found that 61% had experienced problems with their pay, such as underpayment of wages, 60% reported working in dangerous conditions, and 86% experienced health issues related to their work.

A study based on responses from 326 Latin American women working in cleaning, hospitality and domestic work (LAWRS, 2019), found that almost a third were not allowed to take time off while sick and 16% had endured a total of 13 different types of sexual harassment at work, including stalking and rape.

This project will reach out to cleaners and to the organisations directly in contact with workers and communities represented in cleaning, to improve their knowledge about labour rights and modern slavery, and about avenues for information, reporting and support.

LAWRS and EERC will launch an information campaign, via both digital platforms and physical outreach, targeted directly at cleaners from two groups – Eastern Europeans and Latin Americans – who make up a large proportion of the UK’s cleaning workforce. The two specialist organisations will carry out an awareness-raising campaign tailored to workers from these communities, which will include resources about their rights and avenues to access support in various languages.

Over the next two months FLEX will hold training sessions across the UK, bringing together GLAA officers and local organisations supporting cleaners from all backgrounds, to build their understanding of key employment rights, risks and indicators of labour exploitation in cleaning work, and how to access advice and support. These sessions will allow organisations to learn more about the GLAA’s role in preventing and tackling exploitation and to share their questions and concerns. These sessions aim to foster mutual understanding and links between enforcement bodies and community groups. Online learning materials will accompany the sessions.

Key learnings from this work will be shared with the relevant teams within the GLAA and used to develop best practice recommendations for the prevention of exploitation in the cleaning sector.