Report: Zero tolerance for severe forms of labour exploitation needed

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) launched the report “Severe labour exploitation: workers moving within or into the European Union. States’ obligations and victims’ rights” on 2 June 2015 during a joint conference with the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU in Brussels.The report explores all criminal forms of labour exploitation in the EU affecting workers moving within or into the EU.

The findings show that criminal labour exploitation is extensive in a number of industries, particularly agriculture, construction, hotel and catering, domestic work, and manufacturing, and also that perpetrators are at little risk of prosecution or of having to compensate victims. This situation does not only harm the victims themselves, but also undermines labour standards more broadly.

Findings are based on interviews with practitioners and experts as well as case studies. Respondents noted that they perceive an attitude among the general population in European societies of tolerating labour exploitation of workers from other countries. Concerning the particular situation of irregular migrant workers, the report also states that across countries, irregular migrants found in situations of severe exploitation would be considered ‘illegal workers’ first and not primarily treated as victims of crime.

Five main reasons for victims not reporting exploitation to the police:

  • Fear of having to leave the country
  • Victims are not aware of their rights and of support services available
  • Victims fear retaliation against them or family members
  • Victims perceive being jobless as worse than working in exploitative conditions
  • Victims believe that speaking to authorities is not worthwhile, that they would not benefit from subsequent proceedings.

Solutions proposed by experts interviewed:

  • Strengthening the legal framework to protect workers’ rights to fair and just working conditions
  • Improving monitoring systems, workplace inspections ans investigations
  • Encouraging victims to report
  • Strengthening specialisation and cross-border cooperation in all areas of severe labour exploitation
  • Enhancing prevention, including systems of binding standards and reliable branding
  • Creating a climate of zero tolerance of severe labour exploitation in societies

Among proposals FRA makes in the report to improve the situation are the following:

  • EU Member States must ensure a comprehensive, effective and well-resourced system of workplace inspections.
  • To improve the effectiveness of investigations into cases of severe labour exploitation, close links should be established between the police, public prosecutors and monitoring authorities such as labour inspectorates, support services, and employers’ associations, also in cross-border contexts.
  • Victims’ access to justice needs to be strengthened, e.g. through greater efforts to make victims aware of their rights, both before and after their arrival in the EU country in which they are working.
  • National authorities need to establish trust and provide a sense of safety, security and protection to encourage exploited workers to report their experiences, while labour inspectorates and police should cooperate more closely to ensure they identify cases of severe labour exploitation wherever they occur.
  • Both private companies and national authorities are called on to ensure they avoid supporting labour exploitation by contracting or subcontracting companies involved in the exploitation of workers.
  • Consumers must be informed of the risks that a product or service offered was created involving severe labour exploitation by such means as a system of certification and branding of products of companies that respect workers’ rights.

To view the press release in another EU language or view a project video and infographic, click here.

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