Uncovering experiences of forced labour in the United Kingdom

iStock_000016331079LargeResearch by Dr Louise Waite of the University of Leeds

In collaboration with Dr Stuart Hodkinson and Dr Hannah Lewis of the University of Leeds and Professor Peter Dwyer of the University of York

New research that documents the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in the United Kingdom helps us to understand the cause and solutions to confronting the issue of forced labour.

The research, led by Dr Louise Waite of the University of Leeds, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and accredited to the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research.

‘The project focuses on understanding the forced labour experiences of refugees and asylum seekers, following the concern that policy in the UK may force these groups into exploitative working conditions,’ said Dr Waite.

‘The research shows that refugees and asylum seekers routinely experience severe labour exploitation and those trafficked to the UK were likely to be in the most exploitative forms of forced labour.

‘Notably, it shows that the asylum system is double-edged. It contributes to the exploitation of refugees and asylum seekers through the denial of the right to work and enforcing highly restrictive levels of support, but it can also act as a form of support and protection on exiting forced labour.’

Understanding the position of asylum seekers and refugees in forced labour is vital for considering the role of governments and service providers in tackling this problem

Dr Louise Waite

By conducting cross-disciplinary research, Dr Waite and her team have been able to explore in detail the themes of forced labour, unfreedom and precarity.

The research continues to inform public debate on the causes and solutions to forced labour in the UK.


As part of the project, the research team has hosted more than 10 seminars and policy workshops in universities across the UK.

Their book, Precarious Lives: Forced Labour, Exploitation and Asylum, has been published by the Policy Press and they have submitted evidence to the new Parliamentary Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill.

The research team also held a conference in December 2012 on the subject of vulnerable workers, forced labour, migration and ethical training which was attended by academics, policy makers and campaigners.

They have also produced a suite of awareness-raising products, including posters and postcards, which are available to download from their website.

The success of this project has led to additional funding for further research which hopes to influence policy makers, labour organisers and forced labour and trafficking organisations to recognise refugees and asylum seeks as a group susceptible to forced labour.

Everyone I spoke to said how thought provoking and relevant they found the subject matter to be

Event Organiser at British Red Cross Refugee Services Staff Conference

Future Impact

Through their engagement with stakeholders from government and the third sector, including not-for-profit advocacy and support organisations, it is expected that the research will have a significant impact on the development of both government policy and practical solutions to the problem of forced labour.

Great work and I am sure there will be many spin-offs from it – the material from your project seems rich and insightful

Professor Ben Rogaly of University of Sussex

Further Information