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Submission: human rights at work

Submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) inquiry on Human Rights at Work.

Published: 25th September 2023

This submission was developed jointly by the Modern Slavery PEC and the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford. Its authors are Dr Maayan Niezna, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Modern Slavery and Human Rights at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Modern Slavery PEC, and Dr Victoria Tecca, Policy Impact Manager at the Modern Slavery PEC.

It was submitted in response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) inquiry on Human Rights at Work (30 March 2023). It addresses the questions in the section of the inquiry focusing on Labour market exploitation. Whilst recognising the focus of this inquiry is ‘human rights at work’, this response focuses on labour exploitation severe enough to amount to modern slavery.

Key findings

  1. Research demonstrates that forced labour and non-compliance occur on a continuum that ranges from deviations from “decent work” standards set by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to forced labour and labour exploitation that meet the definition of the crime of modern slavery.
  2. There are far fewer prosecutions for modern slavery offences than there are potential victims referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
  3. Evidence shows that effective labour market enforcement is hampered by under-resourcing, a fragmentary approach, a commitment to maintaining a flexible labour market, and an over-reliance on private enforcement through individual legal proceedings.
  4. Modern Slavery-PEC funded research has identified a number of common issues hindering the effectiveness of the NRM in terms of post-exploitation support, relevant to those who have been referred for labour exploitation, including:
  • Uncertainty around survivors’ entitlements;
  • Barriers to accessing entitlements;
  • Procedural delays in NRM decisions and criminal prosecutions, exacerbated by the pandemic, negatively impacting on survivors’ wellbeing;
  • A need to improve linkages between specialised modern slavery services and wider systems affecting survivors’ lives such as housing, mental health services, and the immigration and asylum system.

5. Effective labour market enforcement is hampered by structural issues – including the unintended harms of current laws and policies – that increase the susceptibility of certain groups to labour exploitation.

Key recommendations

  1. The effectiveness of the framework would be improved through meaningful engagement with people with lived experience of labour exploitation.
  2. Improvements can be made to the structures contributing to the drivers of and vulnerabilities to exploitation, and to address exploitation after it has occurred and to prevent re-trafficking, through e.g., better identification or post-exploitation support in three key areas.


  • Given the complex labour market enforcement landscape, the establishment of a Single Enforcement Body (SEB), alongside adequate funding and resourcing, would provide an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of enforcement activity.

Labour Market Conditions:

  • Labour market conditions could be improved via legislation and policy aimed at addressing and preventing modern slavery in supply chains, including by public procurement measures, mandatory human rights due diligence measures, forced labour import bans and measures and frameworks targeting investors and other finance actors.

Visa Regimes and Migration Control:

  • Visa regimes should be designed to prevent and address modern slavery risks.
  • Enforcement of immigration rules should not prevent or deny human rights protections for victims of modern slavery.
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