Coerced labour: The exploitation of the homeless

Bronte Philips 4 November 2014

When we think about modern day slavery we are most likely to consider victims of sex trafficking, domestic servitude and forced labour: those who, under false pretences of job opportunities or threats of violence, are imported from their country of origin and made to work for their employers for no wage, often living in appalling conditions and experiencing abuse, malnourishment, working for over 12 hours a day. Less often considered, however, is the coerced and exploitative labour routinely performed by vulnerable citizens of this country, both immigrants and nationals.

The most recent recession led to a huge increase in cases of homelessness, stretching the resources of soup kitchens and safe houses. Many of those sleeping rough suffering from alcohol and drug addictions. The abundance of these vulnerable, marginalised individuals offers easy pickings for those seeking to exploit. Gangs approach the most desperate with a lure of employment, then coerce their victims workers into working 5am to 11pm shifts for as little as £2 per day. Rather than a gateway out of poverty, such exploitation feeds a vicious cycle: they are homeless because they are exploited, and exploited because they are homeless.
These gangs reportedly target open soup kitchens and indoor food banks, pretending to be homeless in order to gain access to potential victims. Whilst gangs often work independently, many make up ‘recruitment agencies’ which supply workers to larger construction corporations. In this way, big businesses may be complicit in the extortion. A new draft of the Slavery Bill aims to reduce the evidential burden in cases of human trafficking, yet this will do nothing for the homeless coerced by gangs into cheap labour.

Exploitative labour is not just as a problem for the road workers of Jharkhand, the migrant construction workers in Saudi Arabia or the sweatshop workers of China: it is a global problem for the developed and developing world. And to solve an international problem, we need an international reaction.

CUAI hosted a panel discussion on Modern Day Slavery on Wednesday 29th October and will be working on the ‘Stop Trafficking’ campaign in more depth next term. To discuss human rights issues and work on Amnesty campaigns, join CUAI on Sundays at 5pm at the Gatehouse, Clare College Memorial Court.