by Kate Sandwell, University of Leeds
Jul. 3, 2013 (TSR) – A new report offers the first evidence that forced labor is a serious problem in England for refugees and those seeking asylum.
The two-year study calls for an overhaul of government policy to restore asylum seekers’ right to work and ensure all workers can access basic employment rights, such as National Minimum Wage, irrespective of immigration status.
“We found that in the majority of cases, if the asylum seeker had been able to work legally then the employer or agent would not have been able to exploit and abuse them to such an appalling extent,” says Stuart Hodkinson from the University of Leeds, who co-authored of the study.
Interviews with refugees
Researchers interviewed 30 refugees and asylum seekers who had been coerced—either by unscrupulous individuals or by the grim reality of facing destitution—into exploitative jobs in a wide range of fields, including catering, domestic work, retail, and construction.
They found that all of the interviewees had experiences indicative of forced labor, as outlawed by the Forced Labor Convention of the United Nation’s International Labor Organization (ILO).
Indicators of forced labor experienced by refugees and asylum seekers in the study included the withholding of some or all of promised wages, being forced to work excessively long hours, and threats or other forms of intimidation.
“Many of the interviewees had remained in the country after their claim for asylum had been refused. Without any welfare support or the right to work, they had no alternative but to take severely exploitative jobs or enter highly abusive relationships to survive,” says Hodkinson.
Interviews with 23 practitioners and policymakers—including employment inspectors, police officers and refugee service providers—also revealed a need to shift the focus of law enforcement from “illegal” migrant workers to regulating workplace conditions.
“The asylum system favors employers and penalizes workers—particularly those without permission to work—creating a situation in which labor exploitation and forced labor flourish,” explains Hannah Lewis from the University of Leeds, who co-authored the research.
Make it a crime?
The study also calls for a need to raise awareness that any form of forced labor is a criminal offense.
“We heard from interviewees who had been in contact with the Home Office, but their signs of trafficking or forced labor were not recognized,” says Lewis.
Furthermore, the only training on forced labor that is currently available to police officers, in most forces, is an optional online module, she adds.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Leeds and the University of Salford, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.