Forced labour warnings over fake jobs in run up to Olympics

27 June 2012

With a month to go before the Olympics, prospective workers are being warned of the dangers of forced labour in London and especially of falling foul to false promises of jobs related to the Games.

Speaking at the Passage, a homelessness organisation based in Victoria, London, at 11am on Wednesday 27 June, a number of organisations supporting migrant communities as well as homeless people will express concern that criminal recruiters are forcing people into slavery in the capital.

The organisations warn that certain industries such as cleaning, catering, hotels restaurants are particularly vulnerable to abuse, especially to meet the demand for temporary staff over the Olympics. There are also many concerns that homeless people in London are increasingly being targeted by gangs exploiting them for forced labour by offering false promises of decent pay and accommodation.

As part of Anti-Slavery International’s Slavery-Free London campaign, migrants and homeless people will be handed out postcard sized leaflets informing them of their legal rights and warning them of the signs of forced labour as well as how to seek assistance from the authorities.

London is a hub for trafficking and forced labour and an estimated 300 individuals have over the past 12 months been referred by the authorities as potential victims of trafficking in the city alone. Around a quarter of these trafficking victims are male, around 40 per cent are children and around 40 per cent is for labour exploitation.

Industries where victims of trafficking for forced labour have been found in London over the past year include office cleaning, construction, manufacturing, food processing, restaurants, nail bars and private homes as domestic workers. Hotel workers and officer cleaners are also particularly vulnerable to forced labour, which is exacerbated by the industry’s reliance on agency labour.

The NGOs are also raising awareness of the particular vulnerability of homeless people, including migrants and British citizens who are being targeted and exploited on London streets, sometimes with the offer of accommodation and alcohol.

The postcard, which will be translated into a variety of languages, including, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish and Vietnamese and will explain to migrants that for a job to be genuine they must be paid the minimum wage, have a written contract and wage slip as well as work in safe conditions.

The postcard will also make migrant workers aware of their legal rights and spell out indicators of forced labour including having identity documents confiscated, been placed under constant control, being misled over working conditions, being forced to work against your will or working below the minimum wage or even without pay. Anyone finding themselves exploited in this way should call the National Trafficking Support Service on 0300 303 8151 (24 hours).

The capital’s hotels are also being specifically targeted to raise awareness of exploitation amongst their staff. Employers are being alerted to their responsibility to safeguard staff and agency workers and will be given a checklist to identify signs and end risks of possible exploitation amongst workers.

As well as destination for trafficking for sexual exploitation London is also the location of many people trafficked into forced criminality, including forced begging and into cannabis cultivation.

Romana Cacchioli, Programmes and Advocacy Manager at Anti-Slavery International said: “With the world’s eyes about to turn to London it is important to raise awareness of the ongoing problem of forced labour in the capital. Homeless people and migrants in particular are targeted by predatory criminals and unscrupulous employers because they are seen as vulnerable and unable to exert their rights. Our leaflets aim to ensure that people are aware of the warning signs of forced labour and know how to seek support from the authorities if they are exploited.”

Carolina Gottardo, Director of the Latin American Women’s Rights Services (LAWRS) said: “The problem of labour exploitation of the Latin American community for people working as office cleaners is endemic. Employers, often from agencies, take advantage of the fact that many Latin American people don’t speak the language, don’t know about their rights in this country and desperately need the money. People are also often threatened to be denounced with the UK Border Agency and discriminated on the basis of their ethnic background and their migration status.”

Mick Clarke, CEO of the Passage, said: “For some time now we have seen people ending up on the streets and vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous people due to not having a legitimate job and accommodation secured when they arrive in the UK. These people will target those most vulnerable and we have seen many cases where those on the streets have been preyed upon in this way. Any campaign that raises awareness to these risks, and highlights rights, can only be a good thing.”

Case Studies

Krzysztof experienced two bouts of forced labour at the hands of gangs who recruited him while he was drinking and vulnerable. He was helped by the charity Barka, which supports east European homeless people in London, to quit drinking and now helps other homeless people. “I was recruited from at a soup kitchen at a park near Holborn. They always target people with drinking problems because we are easier to manipulate are more easy to make bad decisions by believing their lies. They know we will never claim our rights. I was promised between £50 and £70 a day but instead was paid virtually nothing. I was tricked twice. The first time I worked for a month without pay, the second time for two months.  I was transported to and from different jobs block-paving driveways. I wanted to leave but the gang who employed me were intimidating and I had heard that other men who had tried to leave were beaten up by the gang. Plus, we were in the middle of the countryside, miles from the nearest town.” Listen to Krzysztof’s story here

‘Maria’ is Ecuadorian and has worked as a cleaner for a school for the past three years working from 3am till 8am each day. ‘Maria’ has suffered from harassment because of previous efforts to demand proper wages and fair treatment. Harassment has included managers sending people to urinate on the bathrooms that they have already cleaned and spilling coffee on purpose in the offices.  ‘Maria’ does not speak English and her employer uses her irregular migration status to threaten her with deportation if she dares to speak out against her treatment.  ‘Maria’ says that she cannot resign because she knows other workers have been physically attacked by the managers after complaining or attempting to resign. Maria is now seeking advice from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service on the best way to find justice.

Stefan first arrived at The Passage after managing to escape from captors who had held him in a locked room for over a month. Stefan first met them when he was approached in Lincolnshire by some men in a van with the promise of work and free accommodation. It quickly became apparent that for Stefan this meant hard work, with no pay and been locked in a room at the end of each day. After one month Stefan managed to escape via a skylight and made his way to London and The Passage. Traumatized and desperate The Passage was able to help Stefan get back home to the Czech Republic and to the safety of his family.

‘Mr Lin’ – On his first day arrival from China he was led straight into the kitchen to work. He lived above the restaurant in a shared room with another chef and forced to work 20 hours of overtime each work for no extra pay. He is now owed more than £50,000 in overtime pay. In his first year, £6,700 was also deducted from his pay to cover the cost of his recruitment. He felt unable to leave or complain too much because not only did his work permit not allow him to change employer but his right to remain in the UK was dependent on him completing his 5 year contract with his employer. Over the years his workload had got worse as the restaurant was cutting staff. Towards the end of his 4th year in the UK, he suffered a stroke after a busy day and was hospitalized. He is now only able to walk with the help of a stick. After realising there was very dim hope of his returning to work as before, his employer abandoned him in the hospital and also threw him out of his home. He is now being supported by the Chinese Information and Advice Centre (CIAC).

For further press information contact Paul Donohoe, Anti-Slavery International’s Press Officer on 020 7501 8934 or p.donohoe@antislavery.org. Pdfs of the migrant leaflets are available on www.antislavery.org. To order hard copies contact info@antislavery.org, please make clear which language and the number needed.