Why labour exploitation happens

Recruiting affordable labour can be a problem for some companies, so access to a cheap workforce can be an appealing prospect. Economic conditions, changes in legislation (such as Brexit) and global events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, can put pressure on labour supply. In Scotland, there are also some jobs that many indigenous people aren’t willing to do, but are attractive to people from other countries where work is scarce and wages are low.

Anyone who is vulnerable because of economic circumstances, immigration status, language skills or anything else that disadvantages them, is in danger of exploitation. While victims of labour exploitation and abuse in Scotland come from many different countries, UK nationals are just as at risk as others.

A combination of labour shortage and worker disadvantage can encourage unscrupulous behaviour from employers and sub-contractors desperate to fill positions at as low a cost as possible. Victims of exploitation can often believe they are signing up for an offer of work with attractive pay and conditions, only to arrive in Scotland to find they have been scammed into exploitation and abuse.

Victims are often working in a location where they lack the language skills or other basic knowledge which would allow them to seek help. They may also be moved from place to place or kept isolated. Victims can also become complicit in recruiting other people, often from their home country, on the promise of better treatment in return.

As the impact of Brexit and the global COVID-19 pandemic begin to be understood, it’s clear that the conditions for labour exploitation and abuse will only increase. Everyone, whether business owners, managers, employees or members of the public, must stay vigilant to prevent exploitation in the workplace continuing or increasing.

Go to our advice on spotting the signs of labour exploitation.