British businesses profiting from forced labour – report

by Karrie Kehoe | @karriekehoe | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 18 November 2013 19:45 GMT
Britain’s “light touch” regulation of business and tough immigration policies create a pool of workers susceptible to forced labour, according to a new report.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Britain’s “light touch” regulation of business and tough immigration policies create a pool of workers susceptible to forced labour, a report published on Monday said.

The study, by Queen’s University Belfast and commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. looked at how businesses are profiting from forced labour, which is most prevalent in the construction industry, food sector and illegal cannabis growing factories, where informal labour is common.

Workers are not just lowly paid and exploited but also provide a source of revenue for businesses by charging labourers over the odds for providing them with services such as housing, food, transport and immigration services, the report found.

 "In many instances of forced labour that we saw many organisations were actually drawing revenue from their victims,” said Andrew Crane, co-author of  “Forced Labour’s Business Models and Supply Chains”, published by Queen's University Belfast and commissioned by the Joeph Rowntree Foundation.

"It’s a terrific opportunity for organisations to charge very high rates for these services. Obviously their workers can’t leave and have no choice but to accept these services.”

The report said Britain’s high percentage of agency and self-employed workers on or near the minimum wage contributes to the problem of forced labour, a form of employment where people are forced to work against their will and face penalties, such as losing their job, if they refuse to cooperate.

SUPPLY CHAINS MATTER

Forced labour is not hidden in Britain and can be detected through mapping supply chains, the report noted.

David Arkless, president of the “End Trafficking Now” campaign, said globally, companies needed to do more to tackle forced labour.

"(I’m) frustrated by the lack of involvement of corporations in efforts to ensure that their supply chains are verified against the use of abused labour and that most of the big corporations of the world have not amended both their financial, expense and human resource policies,” said Arkless.

Businesses needed to verify their supply chains and make sure that they are not using agencies who abuse labourers.

Arkless highlighted that illegal employment agencies were a particular concern, saying that they were the responsible for “by far the biggest abuse of human beings” in the world.

"They persuade people in places like Nepal, Warrington, Poland that they can find a person a job, then they charge them money for the job, they move them somewhere and then confiscate their IDs.”

Arkless said he would use the report to put pressure on the British government to make its forthcoming modern slavery legislation tougher on forced labour.

Some 30 million people are enslaved worldwide, trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labour, victims of debt bondage or even born into servitude, according to the 2013 Global Slavery Index

It is unknown exactly how many forced labourers are in the U.K.but the index estimates that there are currently between 4,200 and 4,600 enslaved labourers in the country.

British citizens as well as foreign nationals have been identified as victims of forced labour.

The report highlighed the case of the Connors family who were convicted in December 2012 after enslaving homeless men and forcing them to work in harsh conditions for little pay.