Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 72, Issue 1, pp 87–106 | Cite as

Labour exploitation as corporate crime and harm: outsourcing responsibility in food production and cleaning services supply chains

  • Jon Davies
  • Natalia OllusEmail author


The exploitation of workers can be understood on a spectrum of ‘less severe’ to ‘severe’ acts or omissions, where less severe exploitation can create conditions for severe exploitation to develop. Exploitation is not an isolated phenomenon perpetrated solely by ‘criminals’, but is closely related to developments in the economy, labour markets and society at large. Exploitation is enabled through otherwise legitimate business practices that disadvantageously affect vulnerable workers in product and labour supply chains. In this article, labour exploitation - and ultimately human trafficking - is framed as a form of corporate crime due to the significant role that businesses and supply chains have in facilitating exploitation. This corporate crime lens therefore argues that labour exploitation is driven by common market factors and business processes, which are closely associated with inadequate regulatory oversight of exploitation in local supply chains. The article draws on qualitative, semi-structured interviews conducted with workers and supply chain stakeholders in the UK agri-food industry, as well as the Finnish cleaning industry. Through thematic analysis, the dynamics of industry, labour subcontracting, and a lack of regulatory oversight are discussed, which are framed as key factors that enable exploitation to occur. Ultimately the corporate crime lens emphasises the economic, political and societal context in which exploitation takes place, and by doing so, uncovers the structural nature of such crimes.



We are grateful to Ella Cockbain and other participants of the International Crime Science Conference in July 2018 for helping to shape the content of this article following earlier drafts. We also thank Isabel Schoultz for her feedback and the anonymous reviewers for their comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  2. 2.The European Institute for Crime Prevention and ControlAffiliated with the United Nations (HEUNI)HelsinkiFinland

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