The scale and extent of forced labour in the UK : can the existing legislation and administrative arrangements address the problem?

Shepherd, Rowena Elizabeth

Social sciences
October 2017

Thesis or dissertation

© 2017 Rowena Elizabeth Shepherd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This study describes the current manifestation of forced labour in the UK and assesses the adequacy of official arrangements for tackling it. It examines factors facilitating its growth and focuses on the challenges of finding and identifying it, both fundamental considerations for creating strategies to address the crime.

The subject was researched using a qualitative approach. Data was obtained through semi-structured interviews with selected individuals regarded as familiar with and knowledgeable about workplaces, such as government officials and representatives of non-government agencies. Most interviewees had little knowledge of forced labour, but all had encountered exploitative, abnormal work situations, about which they had taken no remedial action.

This study confirms people are still exploited throughout the UK, predominantly in low skill, labour intense environments. It is difficult to identify forced labour in practice. Only GLAA officials are tasked with scrutinising workplaces for evidence of its presence. Workplace encounters by other officials are unlikely to reveal it, mainly because many accepted forced labour indicators cannot be easily observed. Evolutionary changes in the form and execution of the crime in response to enforcement efforts and a blurred boundary between decent work and exploitation in the current UK work environment also make it harder to identify forced labour.

My findings indicate that successive UK governments’ policies and ‘light-touch’ approach to labour regulation encouraged the emergence and persistence of forced labour. Public sector austerity measures created an adverse synergy by constraining the remits of enforcement agencies, reducing their operational capacity and restricting inspection activities. The same factors make it harder for exploited workers to contact officials for assistance or redress.

The study recommends a range of policy initiatives by which the UK government could improve the way that forced labour is challenged and tackled. It also suggests future research in this field.

School of Education and Social Sciences, The University of Hull
Calverley, Adam; Wilkinson, Mick
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