What is Labour Exploitation?

Labour exploitation is the most common form of modern slavery within the UK. It involves forcing people to work for little or no wages. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has meant that companies have a greater duty than ever to recognise and report slavery within their supply chain. Find out more here.

Labour exploitation is a form of modern slavery and is thus covered by the Modern Slavery Act within the UK. Victims of labour exploitation are forced to work for nothing, low wages or a wage that is kept by their “owner”. Victims of labour exploitation can be any age, gender and race, but more often than not they are male. However, these profiles differ dependant on industry. Labour exploitation can and does occur in businesses of any size and in any country, including the UK. In fact the National Crime Agency found that labour exploitation is the most common form of slavery in the UK and is increasing in prevalence. Regular modern slavery training enables you to stay vigilant for signs of labour exploitation within your community.

Recognising Labour Exploitation

The first step towards combatting modern slavery and labour exploitation is identifying it. You can observe the ways in which workers are treated and keep your eyes peeled for the following signs:

  • Squalid, overcrowded, unsanitary accommodation.
  • Workers being constantly moved between jobs.
  • Employees that are forced to work long hours or double shifts.
  • Daily threatening of workers, both verbally and physically.
  • Regular violations of theirs basic human rights and workers’ rights.

It is also important to observe the labour practices of businesses, especially those in your supply chain. The prevalence of modern slavery varies around the world, thus supplier location can help inform the level of modern slavery risk. The Global Slavery Index can be consulted to indicate relative risk around the world. Supplier labour hire practices can also tell you a lot about the values of your suppliers. For example, practices such as charging excessive recruitment fees, underpaying workers, confiscating passports and abusing workers are indicative of labour exploitation. Modern slavery is more common in some industry sectors, e.g. agriculture, clothing manufacture and construction. These industries tend to be surrounded by minimal labour laws or are seasonal in nature. You should also remain vigilant for any publicised concerns regarding suppliers’ labour standards.

Who is Vulnerable to Labour Exploitation?

Labour exploitation is indiscriminate of age, race and gender. However, some groups of people are more vulnerable than others. Migrants are common targets for labour exploitation perpetrators. Migrant workers are offered jobs working in a foreign county. However, when they arrive they find that the conditions are not as expected and that they owe their travel costs to their recruiters. Other victims are those in financial hardship who take out loans and become debt bonded to pay it off. Interest rates will be set so high that they are unable to pay it off and the victim (and possibly their family) will be demanded to work to repay the debt. Alternatively, victims may previously have been human trafficked. Human trafficking is where people are threatened, coerced or tricked into situations that allow them to be exploited. They are then traded, in this case to labour exploiters, for financial gain. Human trafficking can occur in a victim’s own country or involve being shipped across borders.

Sexual Exploitation

Sexual exploitation is a type of labour exploitation specific to work within the sex industry. This can include: online sites, brothels, pole dancing clubs, the adult entertainment industry and working on the streets. It is important to remember that victims of sexual exploitation can be any gender, age and race. However, females fall victim to this type of exploitation more often than males.

The Effects of Labour Exploitation in the Supply Chain

Modern slavery is surprisingly common and is frequently discovered within the supply chains of large, well-regarded organisations around the world, such as household name Nestlé. Reams of negative consequences unveil themselves in the light of a modern slavery discovery. The reputational blow taken by associated companies can be crippling. Modern slavery can be hard to detect within your supply chain, but it is imperative that you do so, to protect not only innocent victims from slavery but also your business. Thorough modern slavery training and regular refreshers can facilitate its identification.


Get New and Exclusive Insights Direct to Your Inbox!