Opportunity Knocks: Improving responses to labour exploitation with secure reporting

Key findings

The Labour Exploitation Advisory Group's (LEAG) new report supported by Trust for London explores the ways labour inspectorates and police provide information about migrant workers with insecure or undocumented status to Immigration Enforcement.

Migrants with insecure status often feel unable to report workplace abuse and exploitation for fear that contact with statutory agencies could put them at risk of negative immigration consequences. With the Brexit transition period coming to an end, more workers will be bound by visa conditions and restrictions that could lead them to feel insecure in their status. This research addresses an important gap in the literature by analysing the existence, or lack thereof, of secure reporting systems for migrant workers to seek support when experiencing violations to their employment rights in the UK.

The LEAG is a group of experts from ten organisations working with workers in, or at risk of, human trafficking for labour exploitation. LEAG members include: Focus on Labour Exploitation, 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.

Key findings

  • Migrants are enduring long periods of exploitation for fear that reporting will lead to arrest, detention and removal, separating them from their families.
  • Labour inspectors and police are missing valuable opportunities to support workers and identify exploiters due to their close relationship with immigration authorities.
  • Documented migrants who are unaware of their status or the rights derived from it also fear reporting workplace abuse and exploitation.
  • 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 which is worsened by the lack of secure reporting systems (i.e. firewalls between immigration enforcement and labour inspection/law enforcement agencies).

Key recommendation

The report calls for the introduction of ‘secure reporting systems’ that would guarantee workers will not face immigration consequences when they report problems at work.

COVID-19 and the urgent need for secure reporting systems

While this report was written pre-COVID-19, migrant workers’ ability to securely report abuse and exploitation is extremely important to prevent an increase in modern slavery offences during and in the aftermath of the pandemic. As low-paid and at-risk workers lose work or have hours reduced, they will be urgently seeking new employment and far less able to say ‘no’ to exploitative conditions than usual. It is imperative that migrants, documented and undocumented, feel safe to report problems at work, from lack of protective equipment in their workplace to withholding of wages to debt bondage or forced labour.

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Opportunity Knocks: Improving responses to labour exploitation with secure reporting

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