An emerging trend - modern slavery outside the employment chain

31st March 2021 | Rural

Workers who are lawfully employed may still be victims of exploitation outside of the workplace.

The Clewer Initiative

Over the last couple of years, modern slavery organisations have come across slaves that have been lawfully employed but exploited in their home life. This means ethical employers need to be even more vigilant to spot warning signs as any of their workers could be affected.

So, what does ‘exploitation in the community’ look like? Instead of in the workplace, exploiters control workers via their home life, transportation and/or accommodation. For example, acting as a landlord, translator or 'friend' who can help the worker find work or accommodation. Exploiters will often convince workers that they are part of the worker's employment even when they are not, threatening the loss of work as a way to control them and prevent them from seeking help within the workplace. These exploiters isolate workers, restricting their freedom and controlling them - often through threats, violence or by forcing them into debt bondage.

Exploiters can force or ‘help’ workers to open bank accounts for their wages and may escort them to the bank, tell them what to say or speak on their behalf. They take control of banking documentation, bank cards and future bank correspondence and use the bank accounts to gain other credit accounts or to commit financial frauds in the victim's name.

Once in control of the bank account and therefore the workers’ wages, the exploiter controls workers through money and debt. They often inflate genuine costs, such as for accommodation and travel to and from work, and create artificial costs such as fees for finding the worker a job. Not only will exploiters make deductions direct from the wages paid into the bank account, leaving the worker with little money to survive on, they also find ways to inflate the ‘debt’ owed by the worker. This is how a worker unknowingly becomes a victim of debt bondage with the exploiter keeping them trapped in a situation where they can’t work enough to pay off the ever-growing debt.

It is therefore vital that employers know how to identify and help victims like this who are being exploited outside of the workplace, in the community.

Signs to look out for:

  • A labour provider holds on to a worker’s personal documentation and identification e.g passports/ID cards/bank documents
  • A labour provider insists on using their own interpreters and workers are not able or willing to communicate freely and independently
  • Workers have no choice in transportation or have to travel with the labour provider and pay for transport in order to work
  • Workers appear to be reliant on a third party, for accommodation and food and appear to have no choice in this
  • Workers are unable to produce a contract of their terms and conditions.
  • The same bank account has been provided to receive wages for more than one worker.

For more information on potential signs, click here.

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