In commemorating International Labour Day 2022, the UK BME Anti-Slavery Network (BASNET) has called on the UK government and its agencies including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the National Health Service, care associations and other stakeholders to put in measures to protect and safeguard health professionals and care workers recruited from foreign countries from labour exploitation.

As a Network, we welcome the new UK Health and Care Workers Visa Scheme introduced by the government on the 4th August 2020. However, we are particularly concerned about the potential risks posed to successful applicants without appropriate monitoring and checks.  Based on our work and reports from our members, we have identified new patterns and trends that suggest long haul recruitment of health and care workers presents potential high risks of exploitation. It is possible that these risks are replicated in the recruitment of agricultural workers under the Seasonal Workers Visa Scheme.

What we are seeing:

  1. Social media adverts offering ‘irresistible’ work opportunities in the UK (e.g. high salaries, free travel and accommodation, mouth-watering terms and conditions of work). Many of these adverts are too good to be true, but are believed by those reading them as genuine. Hence, they are a potential gateway into exploitation. 
  2. New migrants under these government schemes may be trapped in debt bondage. This is because upfront costs like travel tickets, visa application fees and employment recruitment fees may be paid upfront as a ‘loan’. The individual’s travel documents and certificates are then seized by the recruiter or agency to tie workers to debts they can never pay off.
  3. Some migrants may be further bonded by blackmail, threats, ‘Juju’ or oath rituals that instil fear of harm to themselves and their families should they fail to repay the money owed. This form of psychological control stops exploited individuals from approaching the authorities for help.  
  4. Migrants caught up in debt bondage and labour exploitation, out of fear of repercussions, may unwittingly protect their perpetrators by refusing to co-operate with law enforcement to bring them to justice. In other instances, some migrants may actually believe their trafficker means well based on the supposedly “help” and “access to opportunities” provided. 
  5. An absence of counter-action in source countries compounds the problem.  The strength of the narrative that there are ‘greener pastures’ in the UK drowns out the messages about risks of labour exploitation and harm. 

To address the above gaps that create opportunities for trafficking, exploitation and abuse, BASNET recommends the following:

  • The Home Office should work with sector partners to conduct modern slavery and human trafficking risk assessment of the two long haul visa schemes to understand the risks involved
  • Migrating visa holders should be provided with information on labour exploitation and human trafficking so they know what to do if they feel caught up in that situation
  • The NHS should set strict quality standards for the recruitment agencies it works with in relation to the safety and well-being of those recruited. 
  • UK licenced recruitment agencies should receive training on modern slavery and human trafficking to help them spot the signs and how to protect potential victims
  • UK licenced recruitment agencies should use vetted and trained agents in source countries and provide strict guidelines to monitor their activities
  • Migrating visa holders and employers should have compulsory labour migration training and awareness to enable them understand how to deal with potential risks of exploitation
  • Government and businesses should collaborate and partner with grassroots UK organisations, especially those working in diaspora and Black and Ethnic minority communities, to develop community education and action programmes to address drivers of exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery
  • UK government and its agencies should collaborate with ‘source’ countries to develop a robust, system-wide preventative response to modern slavery, exploitation and human traffficking.

Note to Editors

The UK BME Anti-Slavery Network (BASNET) established by AFRUCA is the first network in the UK and in Europe dedicated to promoting racial equality, diversity and inclusion in the anti-trafficking and anti-slavery space. Our Network members are registered charities and community interest companies working in diaspora communities affected by modern slavery.

Each year, hundreds of victims of modern slavery or human trafficking are brought into the UK from over 20 countries but the voices of those communities are often unheard in much of anti-trafficking work across the country. BASNET is therefore set to amplify the work of grass root organisations within the modern slavery and human trafficking sector.

On 4 May 2022, in partnership with Migrants At Work, BASNET is organising a major event to explore the potential labour exploitation of migrant workers coming to the UK as part of the government’s long haul visa scheme. Registration details available at . https://bme-labour-exploitation.eventbrite.co.uk

This event is held as part of activities to mark AFRUCA’s 21st anniversary.

Find out more at www.bmeantislavery.org

For further information and media enquiries, please contact Naeema Ahmed, Network Manager BASNET on email: naeema@afruca.org or telephone 0207 704 2261.