Irresponsible Recruitment – UK Migrant Workers are Paying the Price

The summer of 2016 has seen at least two big recruitment scandals involving migrant workers: Sports Direct and Byron Burgers.  So-called ‘immigration raids’, in which migrant workers are arrested, detained or deported on the premise that they are working illegally in the UK, are proving a controversial method of cracking down on breaches of immigration and employment regulation. 

Whilst there are many cases where migrant workers produce falsified documentation to seek work in Britain, the responsibility still lies with the employer to protect both the business against illegal immigrant recruitment and overseas workers who do have the right to work in the UK.


We take a deeper look into the very worst recruitment practices:

  • Extortionate & Unofficial Recruitment Fees

It’s not alarming to hear that recruitment fees exist. They can be legitimate, such as for the time spent by recruiters to source employment for job-seekers, assist them with the documentation and planning of their transition and in many cases, migration. However, the desire for a better life and need for help from recruiters can leave migrants at high risk of manipulation.

Many recruitment companies, usually those that specialise in migrant recruitment, covertly add on unauthorised and unrequired fees. Saddled with debt before they even start working, migrants are often left trapped in poor employment, unable to earn enough to live and repay the debts at the same time.

A new model of migrant recruitment, in which the employer pays the migrant worker recruitment fees, is being called for. Such a change would make a significant difference to the lives of millions of vulnerable migrant workers globally. However, a major issue is that a large proportion of migrant work happens under the radar and is hard to track, and therefore almost impossible to address.


  • Passport Retention/Denying Freedom of Movement

Migrant workers are often coerced or pressured into handing over their passports for “induction” or “safety” purposes and then subsequently told they can’t have it back for one reason or another.

Although the holding of passports doesn’t always mean unlawful business practice, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) states that “depriving workers of their passports or identity documents restricts their freedom of movement and consequently increases their risk of becoming victims of forced labour. Therefore, the confiscation of passports or other identity documents of migrant workers is considered to constitute an abusive practice.”

The big issue here is if passports are not allowed to be accessed by its owner (the worker/migrant) when requested. This allows businesses to trap migrants into continuing their work for the company; they’re given no other choice but to stay or to attempt to leave without their personal documents. This also prevents migrants using annual leave to travel to their home country and visit relatives.

Passport retention can happen in any supply chain (even in the UK) and not only in companies that have a low profile. Just this year, there have been numerous reports of poor working conditions of the workers building the new football stadium in Qatar for the FIFA World Cup with a key recurring issue of passport confiscation.


  • Poor Working & Living Conditions

In addition to being victims of debt and lack of freedom of movement, it is not uncommon that migrant workers have to work and live in terrible and unsafe conditions. The media has reported countless stories of foreign workers in the UK being forced to share a small bedroom in a house with little comfort provided by their employer, and are working long days for little to no money. In one case, 45 migrant men who worked 16 hours a day for £10 a week were sharing a 3-bedroom house - which would usually home a family of 4-6. In situations such as this, workers feel as though they cannot complain because of the desperate need to keep their job or be required to leave the UK.

It is a tragic irony that some foreign workers who seek a better life in Britain, often with the desire to send money home to their families overseas, end up in worse situations as a result of cruel business owners and unsavoury, irresponsible recruitment practices. The Sports Direct scandal is only the most recent example of appalling recruitment by a large UK employer. Perhaps it can be the catalyst for change that many are calling for.

As a country that prides itself on its diverse, multi-cultural population and workforce, such medieval methods should no longer be allowed to happen under our noses. We have yet to see how Brexit will affect the influx of migrant workers into the UK, but whether or not numbers increase or decrease, we will continue to uncover issues and support ethical business and worker rights.