Durham University study shows worrying rise in people trafficking

A report led by Durham University has revealed that the number of people trafficked for forced labour is worsening and needs urgent attention

Professor Gary Craig of Durham University
Professor Gary Craig of Durham University

The volume of people trafficked for forced labour is set to eclipse those smuggled in for sexual exploitation, a study by a North East university has found.

The Forced Labour in the UK report, led by Durham University, also reveals monitoring for severe labour exploitation needs to be strengthened to protect the most vulnerable.

It is estimated there are several thousand cases of forced labour in the UK and 880,000 across the European Union. Academics say the problem, which remains largely hidden, is worsening and needs urgent attention.

Lead author at Durham University, Gary Craig, Professor of Community Development and Social Justice, says there are fewer inspections by workplace enforcement agencies and agencies are focusing solely on the more serious offences.

The three-year study draws on data from legal, policy and regulatory bodies and calls for the Government to reconsider some key policies and take a broader view of the problem. Prof Craig said: “Workers experiencing forced labour are brought to the UK in a variety of ways.

“Some of them are smuggled into the country, some are asylum seekers and others are trafficked.

“Many, however, are here legally and fall into forced labour situations because of coercion, deceit and manipulation.

“In many cases, they are given contracts that they do not understand, the gangmasters withhold their passports and documents making it very difficult for them to escape, and put them heavily into debt which they can never repay.

“In addition, they are under the belief that they are working legally, but in fact no income tax or national insurance is being paid as the gangmasters keep it for themselves.

“Many of these workers live in accommodation, often very poor quality, provided by the gangmaster. It is not unusual for men and women to share rooms and have a ‘hotbed’ arrangement where night workers use the same beds that the dayworkers have slept in.

“The people are extremely vulnerable, their livelihood and accommodation is provided by their gangmaster and they are genuinely terrified of them.”

The report’s key policy recommendations are:

  • The Government should prioritise improving data -– making it available on labour exploitation, forced labour and trafficking, to support strategy development and scrutiny.
  • The scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Agency (GLA) should be extended to cover all sectors using labour providers and greater resources should be available for the GLA to be able to fulfil its role effectively.
  • Workplace enforcement agencies should work with a wide range of agencies such as the police, fire and rescue services and local authorities to establish systems for assisting workers who are severely exploited or abused.
  • The Government should reconsider the recent removal of protection for domestic workers, which was brought about via changes to the migrant domestic worker visa system


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