About us

Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) has a vision of a world free from all forms of labour exploitation, including forced labour and human trafficking.

This means we work to challenge and transform the systems and structures that create vulnerabilities for workers.

We do this by:

  • undertaking research, knowledge building and evidence-based advocacy aimed at preventing labour abuses
  • protecting and centering the rights of those affected 
  • promoting best practice responses to labour exploitation

Our work seeks to benefit the most at-risk workers, with a particular focus on women, migrants, and those working in precarious sectors.

You can find more out about our specific areas of work here

The Problem

Estimates of the number of people trafficked into labour exploitation vary but the International Labour Organisation believes it to be around 24.9 million people worldwide today. The UK government estimates there are more than 10,000 such victims in the UK today. Our research has found high levels of worker abuse in sectors such as construction, and has also found that abuses left unchecked can compound and accumulate over time to become severe exploitation.

How we work

We know that this problem cannot be solved unless workers’ rights are protected across the labour market. If workers do not know and cannot protect their own rights; if the state does not adequately enforce labour laws; if corporate practices push down standards; and if people are criminalised due to immigration status, we know that an informal economy will flourish with employers able to abuse and exploit workers with practical impunity.

We want to change this and we believe the best people to shape policy and practice are the people most affected. For this reason, we centre all our work on the experiences and stories of those affected by or those most at-risk of labour exploitation.

In addition, and to win the changes we wish to see, FLEX is pleased to be a member of a number of networks in which we proactively participate to shape the UK response to labour exploitation, both from civil society and government. These include:

  • Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority: NGO Liaison Group
  • Greater London Authority: Modern Slavery Partnership Board
  • Greater London Authority: Migration and Refugee Advisory Panel
  • Home Office Modern Slavery Strategy Implementation Group Sub-Groups on Transparency in Supply Chains, International Issues and Prevention
  • Ethical Trading Initiative: NGO Caucus
  • Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group

At an international level, FLEX learns and shares best practice with anti-trafficking organisations around the world through its membership in the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants.

Impact

  • Financial support for victims reinstated: government cuts to financial support for victims of trafficking was reinstated and government was ordered to make a £1 million back payment for 1,200 victims of trafficking
  • Registration fees lifted: fees for the EU Settlement Scheme were removed, benefiting 3.5 million EU nationals and their families
  • Home Secretary acknowledges risks to migrant workers: then Home Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed to the Home Affairs Select Committee that anti-exploitation concerns would be considered in the design and evaluation of the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme
  • Director of Labour Market Enforcement endorses FLEX position: the Director used the ‘continuum of exploitation’ model in his annual strategy on enforcement
  • UN Special Rapporteur draws on our work: FLEX research and views were referenced multiple times in the July 2018 report by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery
  • Getting crucial issues covered in the media: FLEX consistently achieves national media coverage on key issues
  • Government calls on FLEX views on immigration: FLEX gave expert evidence to the Public Bill Committee on the 2019 Immigration Bill, highlighting the risks posed to workers under post-Brexit migration plans
  • Corporate transparency secured: government finally committed to create a state-run registry for corporate modern slavery statements after FLEX and others’ advocacy
  • Listening to experts by experience: FLEX is at the forefront of developing innovative participatory research methodologies to understand labour exploitation

Values

  • Respect – for equality and recognition of the role of intersectionality, understood as overlapping or accumulated layers of discrimination, and systemic oppression in creating vulnerabilities and disadvantage.  
  • Courage – to explore, probe, and approach challenges with creativity.
  • Integrity – thoroughness, rigour and reliability in how we use information to evidence the need for change. 
  • Justice – everything we do is aimed at achieving a more just society.
  • Accountability – towards those affected by labour exploitation, whose safety, well-being and voice are central to our work.