Criminological reflections on the regulation and governance of labour exploitation

Abstract

The regulation and governance of labour exploitation is a well-researched area across numerous disciplines. Common approaches towards regulating labour exploitation in businesses and supply chains include state interventions to tackle organised crime via the criminal justice system. However, due to strict criminal-legal definitions, these interventions are only possible when targeting severe exploitation. This emphasis means that a large amount of non-criminalised exploitation risks being overlooked. The purpose of this paper is to argue that non-state regulation is an important element in preventing routinised forms of labour exploitation, whereby a criminological perspective would help to understand and better prevent such practices. The paper examines state regulation, self-regulation of businesses, and trade union activity, which together addresses a wider range of labour exploitation. Semi-structured interviews from workers and supply chain stakeholders in the UK agri-food industry are used to inform this discussion. The governance of labour exploitation in relation to business activities has broader implications for the disciplinary areas of regulation and (corporate) criminology, whereby the former tends to prioritise restorative and persuasive approaches, whereas the latter focuses on deterrence and coercion. Ultimately, drawing together different strands of regulation into a hybrid approach is useful not only due to socio-political processes, but is arguably the most helpful in addressing routinised exploitation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    UK responses to labour exploitation are the main focus in this paper due to the research being conducted there, although some points relate to broader regulatory concerns in other jurisdictions.

  2. 2.

    Until 2017, the GLAA were called the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

  3. 3.

    Based on the legislation, businesses with an annual turnover of £36 million or more.

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Acknowledgements

I would especially like to thank David Baker and Hanna Malik, as well as the anonymous reviewers, for reading earlier versions of this article. Any remaining errors are, of course, my own. I also appreciate Georgios Antonopoulos organising this collection of articles on labour exploitation, and for providing a platform to develop my discussion.

Funding

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 756672). Although the ERC did not fund the original research project, this later funding as part of my current position gave me the time and space to build on the original research, and to write this paper.

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Correspondence to Jon Davies.

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Davies, J. Criminological reflections on the regulation and governance of labour exploitation. Trends Organ Crim 23, 57–76 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-019-09370-x

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Keywords

  • Corporate crime
  • Governance
  • Labour exploitation
  • Regulation
  • Supply chains