The impact of labour exploitation

Exploitation has a devastating physical, psychological and financial impact on many of its victims. Here are three first-hand accounts of the impact of labour exploitation from clients of our partner agency, Migrant Help. The names have been changed.

Peter’s story

I worked 72 days without a day off. I was working 12-hour shifts every day, so physically and mentally they broke me down. They were constantly overseeing me and constantly questioning everything I did. Constant mind games, blaming me for things that didn’t happen. No matter what I did it was wrong; it was a way of getting me to do things all the time.

[My experience caused me] a lot of stress, financial wise it was a lot. I didn’t have anything when I [came] here. I was getting something from them but now, I just don’t know. The financial situation has put a lot of stress on my family. I’m trying to do the right thing here because I know this company is doing it to other people. I’m torn between doing what’s right for my family and for greater good. Now with Covid, it’s hard. I’m still moving past – I’m not able to trust anyone. It took a long time to see that Migrant Help was here to help me. I was constantly cautious about people. But I think I’m going through it quite well.

Marek’s story

It happened as I did not have any family and I was taken advantage of when I asked for help, and due to my sexual orientation. I asked for help from a priest in my own country.

It has affected my morale a lot. I think about it a lot. I have had thoughts of suicide. I was forced to work at night with no pay. I had to load heavy things onto containers.

Nabil’s story

I was refused asylum in [a European country], and I could not go home, for I feared for my life and my family. I had nowhere to turn, and so when a man came and said I could have somewhere to sleep, I had to say yes.

The work was hard and I was beaten if I didn’t get up at 4am to start. I have many injuries that still cause me a lot of pain. Every time I visit the doctor the memories of the injuries come back. I had to work even though my arm was broken, because they told me they would kill me if I did not. My arm still wakes me up at night. Men with those accents still make me shake with fear.

Some labour exploitation is more subtle. Workers coming from low-wage economies in other countries – or fleeing labour abuse elsewhere – may not realise the behaviour of employers or gangmasters is illegal.