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New Report: “Opportunity Knocks: improving responses to labour exploitation with secure reporting”

April 27, 2020

Today FLEX and the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group (LEAG)* publish the report ‘Opportunity Knocks: improving responses to labour exploitation with secure reporting’, along with a complementary executive summary.

Building on interviews with workers, this research helps us to better understand the barriers documented and undocumented migrants face reporting workplace abuse and exploitation to the police and labour inspectors in the UK. The report also introduces a detailed framework to analyse how information about peoples’ immigration status becomes available to the Home Office following workers’ interaction with police and labour market enforcement agencies.

Our research found that:

  • Despite labour inspectorates not being legally required to report irregularities with workers’ immigration status to the Home Office, all have done this at least once since 2016
  • Police officers are not legally required to alert the Home Office of undocumented victims of crime, yet there are a number of instances when the Metropolitan Police has done so
  • Information is also made available through simultaneous operations/raids with immigration authorities, use of the Immigration Enforcement National Command and Control Unit’s information service, and referrals to other statutory agencies that regularly report to Immigration Enforcement.

The table on page 27 of the report maps the information flows from labour inspectorates and the Metropolitan Police to Immigration Enforcement.

These practices are negatively affecting the UK’s efforts to tackle labour exploitation because:

  • Migrants are enduring long periods of exploitation for fear that reporting will lead to arrest, detention and/or removal which would make them unable to continue providing for themselves and their families
  • Documented migrants who are unaware of their status or the rights derived from it also fear reporting workplace abuse and exploitation
  • Labour inspectors and police are missing valuable opportunities to support workers and identify exploiters due to their relationship with immigration authorities
  • Simultaneous operations with Immigration Enforcement are leading to misidentification and detention of victims of modern slavery offences
  • The UK is experiencing a cycle of employer impunity, with a number of abusive employers financially benefiting from underpaying their workforce without facing consequences. This cycle of impunity makes everyone worse off by putting fair employers at a disadvantage, directly or indirectly pressuring workers in low-paid sectors to endure worse wages and conditions, and obstructing efforts to prevent modern slavery offences and prosecute exploitative employers.

To address these issues, LEAG is calling for the introduction of secure reporting systems that guarantee workers will not face immigration consequences when they report problems at work.

International examples discussed in the report show that secure reporting systems are not only feasible, but effective in making workplaces and communities safer from exploitation, and in increasing trust between workers and the agencies created to safeguard them.

COVID-19 and the urgent need for secure reporting systems

While this research was carried out before the COVID-19 outbreak, secure reporting systems are more vital than ever to prevent an increase in modern slavery offences during and in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The Coronavirus crisis is having a particularly strong impact on workers who are already at higher risk of labour abuses and exploitation, such as those in low-paid and insecure employment, migrants and women, as shown in FLEX’s recent briefing No Worker Left Behind: protecting low-paid workers from exploitation during and after the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Low-paid migrant workers reported being pressured to work longer hours under unsafe conditions, denied statutory entitlements and threatened with dismissal if they refused to comply with employers’ demands.

Migrants are also facing financial hardship related to mass dismissals in sectors like hospitality, where they make up the majority of the low-paid workforce, and due to their minimal entitlement to government safety nets. Those in desperate need of a new/additional source of income to avoid destitution are likely to move into sectors with high demand for workers at the moment, such as agriculture and food retail. The urgency with which they need work will leave them unable to say ‘no’ to abusive and exploitative working conditions.

Therefore, it is more imperative than ever that the UK introduces secure reporting mechanisms to ensure that migrants feel safe to report problems at work, during and in the aftermath of the pandemic on a permanent basis.

Read the full report here, and the complementary executive summary here.

*The Labour Exploitation Advisory Group is a group of experts from ten organisations working to prevent human trafficking for labour exploitation. LEAG is comprised of Focus on Labour Exploitation (which also provides its secretariat), Latin American Women’s Rights Service, East European Resource Centre, Unite the Union, Ashiana Sheffield, British Red Cross, Kalayaan, Bail for Immigration Detainees, Praxis Community Projects and Equality.