In today’s labour market, labour abuses – such as non-payment of national minimum wage, unfair dismissal, and breaches of contract – often go unchallenged. Short-term contracts, informal working arrangements and subcontracting models have become the norm, eroding accountability for working conditions and creating insecurity and fear among workers. However, little attention has been paid to how the abuse of vulnerable workers in these settings can lead to more serious exploitation, in some cases resulting in situations of modern slavery.
The Labour Exploitation Advisory Group (LEAG) have today published a report highlighting the link between labour abuse and exploitation. While UK responses to trafficking and labour exploitation have tended to focus on organised criminal activity, this report shows that abuses occur across the spectrum – from minor infractions to forced labour – and that when left unchecked labour abuse can and does develop into more severe exploitation. The report argues that in order to combat exploitation, more emphasis is needed to ensure compliance among businesses across the labour market. It suggests that measures such as improving access to information about workers’ rights, making reporting mechanisms more accessible, and holding businesses to account for abuses could prevent labour exploitation from taking place.
In the report Compliance to Exploitation and the Abuses In-between, the LEAG identify ways in which worker vulnerability is exploited by unscrupulous employers and, in some cases, opens the door to more extreme abuse. Isolation, poverty, language barriers and lack of access to information and advice often leaves workers feeling unable to enforce their rights. Limited avenues to bring those in breach of labour laws to justice means that employers are able to continue abuse without fear of penalty.
The findings of this research demonstrate that in order to prevent labour exploitation government and anti-trafficking responses must address labour abuses across the spectrum. Awareness and enforcement of labour rights is key to ensuring that instances of abuse are detected and penalised before they develop into more severe exploitation. Provision of information and advice in a variety of languages is also crucial to enable all workers to report abuse and seek remedy. All agencies who come into contact with vulnerable workers have a role to play in informing and empowering workers to uphold their rights and access justice.
Download the full report here.
See here for more information about the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group.