New research exposes public policy gaps regarding forced labour

Andrew Crane Schulich professor

New research into forced labour – sometimes referred to as “modern slavery” – released Friday was prepared by three Canadians at various universities, as well as Andrew Crance, a British professor with York University’s Schulich School of Business.

The report, “Forced Labour’s Business Models and Supply Chains”,  commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is the first scholarly analysis of the underlying business models of forced labour, say the researchers. They conclude that by understanding how forced labour makes its way into product and Andrew Cranelabour supply chains, the study opens the way to public policy decision-making designed to better disrupt the business of forced labour.

Andrew Crane

While the report is based on research in the United Kingdom, the study also has important implications for policymakers in Canada and around the world, says Crane, one of the researchers, who is the George R. Gardiner Professor of Business Ethics and director of the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business at Schulich.

“The exploitation of vulnerable workers is a growing problem worldwide that could and should be addressed through improved public policy, and Canada is not immune,” said Crane. “Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program, for instance, potentially feeds into the exploitation of vulnerable workers by tying them to employers. Unscrupulous employers have been known to cross the line into forced labour.”

“Canada has an impressive National Action Plan to combat human trafficking,” Crane said, “but so far it just hasn’t tackled the business side of forced labour directly. Our report provides new tools to do exactly that.”

The report’s other researchers are Jean Allain, professor of public international law and the director of the Human Rights Centre, School of Law at Queen’s University in Belfast, U.K.; Genevieve LeBaron, vice-chancellor’s Fellow in politics at the University of Sheffield, U.K.; and Laya Behbahani, an MA candidate at the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

The study highlights how commercial cannabis cultivation is growing rapidly in recent years and documents how those forced to work in “grow-ops” are usually Vietnamese children and adults smuggled into the U.K. and coerced to work through debt-bondage and threats to their families. It also examines the factors at work in the food and construction industries that lead to forced labour.

“While a great deal of attention has rightly been paid to the experiences of victims, very little consideration has been given to how people actually make money using forced labour. This understanding of the business dynamics of forced labour is crucial if we are going to try to end such exploitation,” said Allain.

“Businesses use forced labour to make money, and they do this in one of two ways – by either minimizing costs as a result of offering minimal pay and failing to provide basic entitlements such as pensions or sick pay; or generating revenue by charging workers for additional services, including visas, travel expenses, accommodation or transport to and from the workplace.”

The full report, Forced Labour’s Business Models and Supply Chains, is available online.