Independent UN human rights experts concerned about migrant labour exploitation in UK

UN experts voice their concern over migrant labour exploitation
UN experts voice their concern over migrant labour exploitation in the UK. Photo Courtesy:  UNSPLASH/Fraser Cottrell 

Independent UN human rights experts have expressed concern about the protection risks faced by migrant workers in the United Kingdom (UK), including “deception, exorbitant recruitment fees, debt bondage, undignified living conditions, and potential deportation”.

The experts said they have received allegations that migrants are being deceived about “working and living conditions and the nature of their agreements with employers in the agricultural or care sectors”.

“This is unlawful and highlights the need for urgent reform of the current system governing labour migration, to ensure effective protection of the rights of migrant workers,” they said.

Exploiting migrants

The UN experts are concerned about shortcomings of the Seasonal Worker Scheme – a system implemented in response to labour shortages in the UK.

These specialists say some “scheme operators” which are licensed recruitment companies will recruit migrants to work on farms or in poultry production and some will illegally charge them upwards of £3,000 (USD 3,839) to become employed, leaving the migrants in bondage.

In other cases, migrants are promised work in the agricultural or care sector before arriving in the country, but later learn there is no job for them.

The UK Government has revoked the licenses of “non-compliant” employers in the care sector, however, experts say there is no protection for employees who lose their jobs due to these revocations.

They said many employees may later face deportation while others may become victims of trafficking and exploitation.

“Currently, too many temporary migrant workers have been in a legal limbo for too long and risk becoming destitute.”

How the government can assist

The special rapporteurs said the UK government needs to “hold scheme operators accountable through effective supervision and audits, as well as regular labour inspections on farms, protecting against human rights abuse by business enterprises domiciled in its territory, in line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”.

They also said people exploiting labourers should be prosecuted, while justice should be guaranteed for victims.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on specific country situations or thematic issues worldwide.

They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.