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Washing the Car

Labour Exploitation 

Labour exploitation is forced or compulsory labour. This is usually for very long hours in hard conditions. Relevant training or safety equipment is not given. Almost all slavery practices contain some element of forced labour. The majority, if not all of the person’s wages are handed to their traffickers.

In 2022, for adult potential victims, labour exploitation was the most commonly reported type of exploitation for adults. The most common nationality referred was UK nationals, followed by Albanian and Vietnamese nationals. 

Forced labour crucially implies the use of coercion and lack of freedom of choice for the victim. In many cases victims are subjected to verbal threats or violence to achieve compliance. Forced or compulsory labour can be found in many industries, including: 

  • Car Washes

  • Nail bars and beauty salons 

  • Cannabis Cultivation

  • Agriculture and fishing

  • Domestic work

  • Clothes manufacturing 

  • Factories 

  • Construction

  • Manufacturing, processing and packaging

  • Prostitution and sexual exploitation

  • Market trading and illegal activities

Forced labour happens in the context of poverty, lack of sustainable jobs and education, as well as where there is demand for cheap services. Migrant workers are targeted because they often don’t speak the language, have limited support of family and friends around them, have limited rights and depend on their employers. 

Homeless communities are also especially vulnerable to being exploited for labour. A recent report from The Passage, surveying Modern Slavery and Homeless notes: 

The potential link between homelessness and modern slavery is, therefore, evident from two angles. Homeless people are vulnerable to being trafficked or held as victims of modern slavery by virtue of being homeless and having associated support needs (such as alcohol or drug misuse and mental health issues), that can impair their judgement or ability to protect themselves. Alternatively, victims of modern slavery are vulnerable to becoming homeless since they do not have support networks and have nowhere to go after they leave safe-house support provision. 

The International Labour Organisation has identified six elements which individually or collectively can indicate forced labour. These are:

  • Threats or actual physical harm

  • Restriction of movement and confinement to the workplace or to a limited area

  • Debt-bondage

  • Withholding of wages or excessive wage reductions that violate previously made agreements

  • Retention of passports and identity documents (the workers can neither leave nor prove their identity status) 

  • Threat of denunciation to the authorities regardless of whether the worker holds legal status in the UK or not.


Often large numbers of people are housed in single dwellings and there is evidence of hot bunking, where a returning shift takes up the sleeping accommodation of those starting the next shift.


Signs of Forced or Compulsory Labour

  • No or limited access to earnings or labour contract 

  • Dependence on employer for a number of services for example work, transport and accommodation

  • Any evidence workers are required to pay for tools, food or accommodation via deductions from their pay 

  • Lack of personal protective equipment

  • Imposed place of accommodation 

  • Found in poor living conditions

  • Evidence of excessive working days or hours 

  • Deceived about the nature of the job, location, or employer 

  • Employer or manager unable to produce documents required when employing migrant labour 

  • Employer or manager unable to provide record of wages paid to workers 

  • Poor or non-existent health and safety equipment or no health and safety notices 

  • Any other evidence of labour laws being breached 



[2] pp6 


[4]The Passage: Understanding and Responding to Modern Slavery within the Homelessness Sector, pp5.

Case Study

Road Constuction

Richard, became homeless in his early twenties after loosing his job. He was housed by a well known homeless charity in the North West of England. One day he was called to the charity’s reception and was offered a job by a traveller family. In return for labour, Richard would receive money, accommodation and travel. Richard accepted the job and travelled with the family to the Netherlands.


Richard’s work involved paving and tarmacking people’s driveways within the Netherlands, France, Austria and the UK. Richard would frequently work 14-18 hours each day. Days off were rare. Accommodation was in a caravan, shared with the large dog of the family. Sometimes he was fed only a sandwich a day.  Although Richard tried to escape, he and his family were threatened. He was told ‘we know where your family live’. Richard stayed. 

The traveller family used Richard’s identification documents many times without his knowledge or permission. Companies were set up in Richard’s name. These companies would take out financial loans in Richard’s name not to be repaid. Expensive equipment and cars were rented and not always returned. The police arrested Richard in France. He was charged for theft and fraud and sent to prison. Having served two years in prison, Richard was released and it was the first time he was able to get away from his captors in twenty years. Richard returned to the UK and Essex. He became homeless once more. He started attending a local church's meal for the homeless. Eventually he found accommodation. This however was short-lived as he was re-arrested for crimes he was forced to commit. Having served his sentence and released, Richard is moving forward enjoying his freedom.

Credit Card

Forced Criminal Exploitation


Spot the Signs

Woman sitting alone

Sexual Exploitation 


Spot the Signs 

Girl Gazing

Domestic Exploitation 


Spot the Signs 

Report Modern Slavery

In an emergency call the Police on 999​

To get help or report a suspicion call the

Modern Slavery Helpline:

0800 0121 700 

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