Labour exploitation & forced labour

The risk of exploitation increases whenever or wherever people are vulnerable. A shortage in the supply of labour also increases the risk.

In the UK, labour exploitation is most common in construction, agriculture, car washes, nail bars, hospitality and factories.

Migrant workers are often victims of forced labour and labour trafficking, particularly in the seasonal labour market when there is high demand for short term workers. They can be particularly susceptible because they need work to survive, they trust fellow countrymen who make false promises, they may be dependent on others because of limited language skills or may expect to pay for work because that would be normal in their own country.

Victims of forced labour are made to work long hours, often in hard conditions, without relevant training and equipment. They are forced to hand over the majority, if not all, of their wages to their exploiters. In many cases victims are subjected to verbal threats or violence and often large numbers of people are kept in the same house in horrific conditions.

Cases of labour exploitation have been widely reported in car washes and nail bars, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Victims have been found in the manufacturing, agriculture, entertainment, hospitality and construction industries.

Labour exploitation can also include criminal exploitation, where victims are forced to commit crimes. For example where they are forced to pickpocket, or made to work on a cannabis farm, tending the plants.

Different models of exploitation

Modern slavery is not the same as poor working conditions and the distinction is important. The key distinction is coercion and control - where the enslaved person is unable to escape the abusive relationship.

Victims work for someone other than exploiters

Victims are employed in a legitimate and often low‑skilled job (e.g. food picking, packing or processing) with legal working conditions, by an employer unrelated to the exploiters. Most or all wages are taken by offenders often through control of the victims' bank accounts.

Victims work for exploiters

Victims are forced to work directly for exploiters in business or sites that they own or control (e.g. car washes, agriculture) - some offenders may be gangmasters or unlicensed labour providers. The main method of exploitation is not paying or illegally underpaying victims.

Victims kept in isolated environments

Victims who are often highly vulnerable are exploited for labour in multiple ways (e.g. laying driveways, building work, agriculture) in isolated rural locations. Victims live in offenders' property in squalid conditions, are subject to repeated abuse and are rarely paid.

Old rural building 627x378

Apps that are helping to tackle labour exploitation

Working closely with experts in the respective sectors, The Clewer Initiative has developed two apps which are designed to tackle some specific problems in labour exploitation. Both apps are free to download, provide access to help and support for anyone who may be affected or concerned about someone else's situation and enable members of the public to help tackle the problem.

The Safe Car Wash app

Enabling anyone who uses hand car washes to help us gather information on the location of car washes throughout the country and the working conditions on each. Users are asked for the name and location of the car wash and to answer a handful of questions related to the indicators of modern slavery. The app also includes a reporting tool and link to the Modern Slavery Helpline.

The Farm Work Welfare app

Tackling modern slavery in the seasonal rural labour market - the app supports workers, farmers and growers with easy access to essential information to promote worker welfare and help employers and workers avoid criminal exploiters. All content is available in eight languages and it also includes a simple reporting tool linked to the Modern Slavery Helpline.

Modern Slavery Helpline

Get help, report a suspicion or seek advice.

08000 121 700

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