Founded in 2013, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) is a research and policy organisation working towards an end to labour exploitation.
FLEX seeks to achieve this vision through:
- Prevention of labour abuses
- Protection of the rights of those affected or at risk of exploitation
- Promoting best practice responses to labour exploitation through research and evidence-based advocacy.
FLEX’s work builds on the understanding that labour exploitation is situated at the extreme end of a spectrum ranging from labour compliance through to labour law violations, culminating at extreme exploitation in the form of offences such as forced labour and human trafficking for labour exploitation.
FLEX recognises that workers at risk of poverty, destitution, discrimination and/or social exclusion are at higher risk of exploitation, and therefore seeks to benefit workers in low-paid and insecure work, women workers, and migrant workers.
You can find more out about our specific areas of work here.
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.
FLEX works alongside other organisations committed to the rights of vulnerable workers and those working to combat labour exploitation and is also guided by organisations working with people affected by, or at risk of labour exploitation in the UK, including trafficked persons, who form FLEX’s ‘Labour Exploitation Advisory Group’.
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, Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, and La Strada International.
- 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
- 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.