Spotting the signs of labour exploitation

Whether you’re a business owner, manager, employee or member of the public, being alert to the signs of labour exploitation and abuse could help us identify, protect and support victims. It could also help us prosecute those committing exploitation in the workplace.

Spotting signs in the workplace

People who are being exploited often report:

  • Up front charges being demanded before workers begin new jobs
  • People taking their official documents away and not returning them
  • Many individuals living in the accommodation that’s provided, with people sharing beds, sleeping on couches or on mattresses on the floor
  • Having no access to supermarkets, being supplied with poor quality food
  • Workers are escorted to and from work
  • Worker transport is tightly controlled and charged for
  • Vehicles used to transport workers don’t have seatbelts
  • Being forced to work long hours, often without regulation breaks
  • Being charged for uniforms or standard personal protective equipment
  • Never seeing wages, having no control over their bank accounts, being given small amounts of cash on a weekly basis.

You may also see in the workplace:

  • People being withdrawn, looking unkempt or poorly nourished.
  • People with bruises or other signs of physical abuse
  • Workers lacking essential items like clothing, tools or food
  • Workers always deferring to another person who always speaks for them.
  • Workers hiding or reluctant to engage

Spotting signs in the community:

  • Many people either living in, or coming and going from, a single house or flat
  • Curtains permanently drawn
  • People regularly leaving early in the morning and only returning late in the evening
  • People being escorted to and from accommodation
  • Large groups waiting by the roadside before being collected by a van or minibus
  • Someone using many different bank cards at an ATM machine.

Other things that may raise suspicion for bank and post office workers, people in benefits roles:

  • Moving money quickly through bank accounts, large sums of cash shortly after payday on a regular basis while no indication of withdrawals for day to day living
  • One person acting as interpreter for many individuals
  • Suspicious activity at ATMs, with the same person repeatedly using different cards to withdraw cash from multiple accounts on the same day
  • Fraudulent applications for benefits on behalf of the victims, for example many phone calls made from the same phone number
Every day, exploited workers call the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. This video is a recreation of a worker phone call and points out the forced labour indicators as they occur in the conversation.
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