It may not be intuitive, but researchers at the University of Bath have found that some victims of modern slavery may actually be “underworked.”
Why? Because it can increase or prolong a victim’s debt bondage and provide a steady stream of revenue for employers who require workers to pay for living costs.
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Researchers at the Academy of Management at the University of Bath’s School of Management say that their study of the food and construction sectors in the UK revealed that exploited workers are not necessarily being worked as hard as they can. Victims are sometimes given no work or work for only a few hours each week.
The report’s authors point out that the assumption that all victims of modern slavery tirelessly overworked does not ring true for every exploited worker.
Gangmasters take on more workers than they need and deliberately avoid giving victims work. They provide them with accommodation and money for food, on the proviso it is paid back when they start earning; cultivating dependence and debt bondage, most common among migrant workers in the agricultural sector.
Victims become ‘coerced consumers’, forced into spend wages on accommodation, food, transport and other goods provided by their employer. They are driven deeper into debt, securing funds from family members abroad, or instant loan services.
In other cases, workers will accumulate large amounts of debt, usually with undisclosed premium interest rates, that they cannot repay. They are pushed further into financial dependence and become increasingly susceptible to continued exploitation.
Professor Andrew Crane, from the University of Bath’s Centre for Business, Organisations and Society, said, “At first, the idea of the victims of modern slavery being ‘underworked’ perplexed us. Why would you coerce workers into a situation of forced labour if you were not going to work them as hard as you could?”
“The explanation is that victims are being mercilessly forced into a cycle of debt and exploitation that is extremely difficult to break.”
Professor Crane hopes that the new research will shine a light on how “innovative” businesses attempt to get away with labor exploitation.
“We think of business innovation as being to the benefit of the environment and society but here is the dark side of business innovation, highlighting the warped business logic of those who profit from exploitation.”
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