Addressing labour exploitation in the UK

Issues Affecting Women

26 March 2021

Photo by Volha Flaxeco on Unsplash

We all have the right be safe and respected at work. Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), is a not-for-profit organisation that works to prevent and address the exploitation of people in the UK working in sectors such as construction, cleaning, agriculture, garment making, manufacturing and more.

FLEX raises awareness on the many factors that allow for workplace exploitation to flourish. It challenges attitudes and practices that drive this, such as discrimination, lack of union representation or workplaces that ignore workers’ rights. FLEX also pushes for change. It provides policy-makers with clear, evidence-based strategies to help prevent these abuses in the first place.

To explore the experiences and drivers of labour abuse and exploitation in three understudied low-paid sectors of the economy FLEX is producing three working papers. Each of these will look into the working conditions of women and young migrant workers in three separate low paid and often precarious sectors – cleaning, hospitality and logistics work in the gig economy.

Its recent publication, focused on the cleaning sector – ‘If I Could Change Anything About My Work…’ Participatory Research With Cleaners In The UK’ is the first of the three. It provides unique evidence of labour abuses and risks faced by workers in the cleaning sector, including pay violations and dangerous working conditions, lack of access to social security such as sick pay, and experiences of sexual harassment. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear that much needs to be done – and urgently – to improve the situation of people working in the cleaning sectors in the UK. FLEX knows how crucial it is that the solutions taken forward are informed by those most affected by them i.e., the workers themselves. They have a wealth of knowledge about what leads to and drives labour abuse and exploitation in their employment sector. By bringing this knowledge to the attention of policy-makers, it is hoped that real, meaningful change will happen.

FLEX’s work falls under the Issues Affecting Women Programme’s (IAWP), which supports organisations working to stop trafficking and exploitation. Read more about the programme strategy here.

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