What is labour exploitation?

Labour exploitation is the abuse of people in the workplace for profit. The abuse can be direct and brutal or much less obvious. But its impact is devastating for victims; psychologically, physically, emotionally and financially.

People are exploited in many different ways, including:

  • Having wages being deducted at source
  • Having wages and paperwork being controlled by another person
  • Being kept in isolation and/or being fed misinformation
  • Through psychological and physical abuse
  • Being subjected to threats of physical violence or other forms of bullying
  • Being forced to work long hours without breaks
  • Being subjected to poor workplace health and safety, working conditions and an absence of legally required personal protective equipment
  • Being made to use poorly maintained or faulty equipment
  • Where accommodation is provided, being overcharged for cramped and unsanitary living quarters
  • Their movement between employers being prevented, restricted or tightly controlled
  • Having their liberty restricted in obvious or more subtle ways.

Exploitation can happen to anyone, whether they are from the UK or abroad. Offenders often target people with vulnerabilities, whether that’s down to their personal circumstances, their employment status, their language abilities or something else that isolates them from other people.

Victims do not always understand that employers are breaking the law or they are being controlled to the point where they are unable to speak out. They have sometimes fled worse abuse elsewhere in the UK or in another country.

Sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and exploitation as part of the activities of organised criminal gangs are other kinds of modern slavery. While all forms are occurring across Scotland, today, labour exploitation is believed to be the most widespread.

Workers are vulnerable to exploitation from a number of people. They can be directly exploited and abused by the owner-manager of a business or someone who works for the owner. But the owners and managers of a company might be unaware that an employee or middleman is exploiting people working for their business. Companies can be infiltrated by organised criminal gangs. In other situations, workers being exploited may work for a third party organisation in the UK, or that operates across international borders, and they are being sub-contracted to a legitimate business.

Interview with Rabiya Ravat, Migrant Help on human trafficking and labour exploitation in Scotland
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