Written by: Nahir de la Silva: Policy and Communications Coordinator – Employment Rights at the Latin American Women Rights Service
Today in #AntiSlaveryDay, it is crucial that migrant women who experience extreme labour exploitation in outsourcing sectors like cleaning, catering and hospitality are recognised as victims regardless of the immigration status they hold.
Establishing a firewall for safe reporting will ensure that labour enforcement and the police better identify vulnerabilities of insecure legal status used by traffickers and abusive employers.
The Latin-American community and in-work poverty
The Latin American community is one of London’s fastest growing groups. Most migrate fleeing the economic crisis, poverty, exploitation and violence. Paradoxically, many of them confront the very same problems upon arrival in the UK. A large proportion of these women workers are affected by “in- work” poverty and remain concentrated in vulnerable, low-paid, over-exploitative, unregulated jobs. These sectors ate cleaning, domestic work and hospitality.
LAWRS’ survey and domestic work
The following data represents the initial findings of a survey study carried out with 50 women working as domestic workers conducted by LAWRS (to be published in 2018):
• 9.4% of the women reported they worked more than what they were hired to do
• 17% earn less than the national minimum wage.
• 39% does not have a written contract.
• 57% experienced verbal abuse and threats.
• 14% experienced abuse and/or sexual harassment.
• The “normal” working hours for domestic workers were from 12 to 16 hours per day.
• Some of them experienced denial or were provided only a minimum amount of food.
The main barriers LAWRS has experienced to refer the cases to NRM first responders agencies were:
1) forms of exploitation
2) immigration status
3) Latin American potential victims.
Regarding the type of exploitation, since September 2017 LAWRS received five cases with elements of severe exploitation of domestic workers. However, we noticed that the level of threshold that the police and first responders’ agencies apply is high and the evidence that the person needs to provide is large. For those reasons, the police often do not accept the report of the crime over ‘poor evidence’.
Trafficking often results from organized crime but in many cases results from individual experiences that move within the continuum between labour exploitation and more severe cases of trafficking or modern slavery. The line between these two it is a very fine line that often cannot be clearly defined.
Modern slavery needs to be combatted but there also needs to be targeted efforts to tackle labour exploitation.
In all the cases where LAWRS identified indicators of modern slavery, immigration status was used by employers as a threat of deportation.
LAWRS is concerned about the number of Latin American potential victims of modern slavery referred to the National Referral Mechanism. It is important to recognize and tackle the barriers to reporting (language barrier, lack of knowledge of the system, lack of protection of victims’ rights above immigration enforcement, etc.).
In other European countries such as The Netherlands and Spain, Latin Americans are amongst the most common nationalities identified as victims of sexual exploitation.
LAWRS believes that the lack of recognition of Latin American as an ethnic group impacts the numbers of potential victims of the region and Latin American women still remain invisible as potential victims of modern slavery in the UK.
1. Targeted efforts should be made to tackle labour exploitation, by working alongside other agencies for appropriate enforcement of employment rights in outsourcing sectors, particularly in cleaning, catering and hospitality. In many cases, migrant women are within the continuum between labour exploitation and more severe cases of trafficking or modern slavery. The line between these two is a very fine line that could not be clearly defined.
2. It is important to raise awareness among police officers (as well as other enforcement authorities including labour enforcement and the judicial system), about the experiences of migrant women victims who are unable to speak English and may lack understanding of the system and their rights, in order to lessen the discriminatory bias and to improve the ability of police officers to properly identify victims. In addition, training should be provided about forms of gender-based violence at work and its impact on the self-identification of women as victims, particularly in feminised sectors of the labour market.
3. In terms of severe forms of exploitation, trafficking and modern slavery, these agendas should not be employed to increase the criminalisation of migration. Survivor’s rights should always be above immigration control. Unfortunately, successive and punitive immigration acts are only making it harder for victims with insecure migration status to report and in the vast majority of cases involving migrant women, there is a high level of underreporting.
4. The establishment of a firewall for safe reporting, ensuring that workers who are victims are able to safely report abuse without being subjected to immigration enforcement. Understanding of the vulnerability derived from an insecure legal status is crucial to a sound understanding of human trafficking and modern slavery, as it is often the result as well as a source of vulnerability that is exploited by traffickers and abusive employers.