Let’s Talk About Labour Exploitation

International Workers Day is about celebrating how far we have come as workers. It’s about recognising the hard-won rights we enjoy and about remembering those who fought to give them to us. It’s also a day where we show worker solidarity, defending the rights we share and speaking up about rights that still need to be fought for. We wanted to take a moment today to think of those who are still struggling for their rights as workers, and to speak about some of the exploitation that is sadly still prevalent across the world. 

Improving working rights around the world is central to our mission of preventing human trafficking and modern slavery (HTMS). We work with major corporations and SMEs to help them understand where there might be risk of HTMS in their supply chains and to identify the tell-tale signs of the various forms of exploitation. We run campaigns around the globe which seek to raise awareness of exploitation, and to help those who may be vulnerable to, or victims of, this exploitation know their working rights and seek support where necessary.  

Ultimately, we seek to encourage people to #SpotTheSigns of exploitation, speak openly about its realities and report suspicious activity when they see it.  

What is labour exploitation?

Within the field of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery prevention, labour exploitation refers to situations where people are coerced to work for little or no remuneration, often under threat of punishment. There are a number of means through which a person can be coerced, including: 

  • Use of violence or intimidation 
  • Accumulated debt 
  • Retention of identity papers 
  • Threat of exposure to immigration authorities 

All types of labour, within every industry, are susceptible to labour exploitation. It is a worldwide problem whose scope and scale is sometimes difficult to wrap your head around. Here are some key facts and figures from the International Labour Organization (ILO):

  • There are an estimated 40.3 million people trapped in modern slavery around the world at any given time. Of this 40.3 million, 24.9 million people are estimated to be within situations of forced labour.
  • Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labour, 16 million people are exploited within the private sector. This includes in fields such as domestic work, construction, and agriculture.
  • 8 million of this 24.9 million are persons suffering forced sexual exploitation.
  • Around 4 million of this 24.9 million are in situations of forced labour imposed by state authorities.
  • Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of the victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.

These figures make for pretty bleak reading, and it can often leave us feeling powerless in the face of such widespread exploitation. But we are not powerless, we believe that through our collective action we can shine a light on this exploitation and work to prevent it from happening. So, what can you do about it? 

What can you do to help prevent labour exploitation?

1. Educate Yourself 
The first step you can take is to educate yourself about the issue, so that you can spot the signs of labour exploitation. By spotting the signs, you can help change the course of an individual’s future. 

Someone may be being exploited for labour if they: 

  • show signs of psychological or physical abuse. They appear frightened, withdrawn or confused. 
  • have restricted movement on leaving or entering the premises. They are highly likely to be accompanied. 
  • are forced to stay in accommodation provided by the employer, which can be overcrowded. In some cases those exploited sleep at the site of their exploitation (car washes/factories). 
  • claim to not know personal details. 
  • do not have control or access to their passport or other legal documents. 
  • lack the necessary protective equipment or suitable clothing. 
  • they are grouped together with workers of a similar nationality/age/gender and appear to have a representative by whom they are ‘coached.’ 

Remember: Spotting one of these signs may not mean that someone is being exploited or trafficked but seeing one should be a reason to be suspicious. The more signs you see, the more likely that this person is being controlled, exploited, and trafficked. Be sure to visit our #SpotTheSigns resources for industry specific indicators in multiple languages. 

2. Report anything you deem suspicious 
If you suspect that someone is being coerced or exploited, or you are yourself a victim of human trafficking, call your nearest local authorities or support organisation.  

You can anonymously report your suspicions to Crimestoppers. Equally, if you do not think there is immediate danger but have seen something that doesn’t look right you can report anonymously and confidentially via The STOP APP – which can also help us build a picture of what exploitation looks like globally. 

What STOP THE TRAFFIK is doing to reduce the risk of forms of human trafficking like labour exploitation

Lots of the time, workers who are suffering labour exploitation have been trafficked into the situation. This means that they have been exploited in transit from one place to another, when they are unsettled and in search of a new opportunity, often when they are at their most vulnerable. 

STOP THE TRAFFIK is an intelligence-led organisation that works to prevent human trafficking. We do this by collecting data from all around the world and using it to develop a large-scale picture of the movements, trends, and tactics that underpin Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in concert with the Traffik Analysis Hub

We believe that we can make a serious impact on the business of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery by doing three key things:  

  1. Making it harder for traffickers to recruit vulnerable people through the empowerment of at-risk communities.  
  2. Disrupting the money flows of traffickers by understanding and identifying their financial behaviour. 
  3. Reducing the demand for the exploited labour that traffickers sell through close collaboration with businesses to identify and eradicate Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in their supply chains. 

Can you help us to continue doing this work?

Make sure to follow us on social media via the links at the bottom of this page and help us raise awareness of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery.

If you can afford to do so, a donation would be hugely appreciated. Know that every penny you donate will go towards the prevention of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery around the world.

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