11 September 2017
Failure to monitor outsourced recruitment is resulting in companies inadvertently employing victims of forced labour, according to new research from the Universities of Sheffield and Bath.
Interviews with experts in business, NGOs, trade unions, law firms and the police showed that while companies can increasingly trace where their products come from, many are in the dark about the backgrounds of their staff.
The research, by the University of Sheffield and the University of Bath’s School of Management, suggests that layers of outsourcing, subcontracting and informal hiring of temporary staff are to blame. This, say the researchers, enables victims of forced labour to be hidden within the workforce of companies and organisations – even those with the best intentions.
Statistics recently released by the National Crime Agency showed that the number of people reported as potential victims of forced labour and human trafficking in the UK has more than doubled in the past three years, with 3,805 people referred for help in 2016.
The researchers concluded that the key issue in tackling forced labour is understanding the labour supply chain – the often unregulated networks through which contingent and sometimes forced or trafficked workers are recruited, transported, and supplied to business by third party agents.
Study co-author Dr Genevieve LeBaron, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Politics, said: “Leading UK companies are starting to belatedly wake up to the fact that their existing systems for detecting worker abuse simply are not fit for purpose for uncovering forced labour. But, as new initiatives emerge, the critical factor determining their success will be whether they meaningfully address the labour supply chains that feed their business.

“It is these chains that make forced labour seemingly invisible even when the workers subjected to them are right in front of us Employee outsourcing hides forced labour in the workforce, new research shows