Developing International Responses to Trafficking and the Demand for Low-waged (Migrant) Labour

Research in COMPAS on low-waged migrant labour, particularly in the care sector, has contributed significantly to public debate and policy development on migrant labour, labour demand, and trafficking and forced labour.

Led by Anderson, COMPAS’ work in these fields has directly impacted upon (1) international debate, by informing the position of the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on trafficking; (2) UK immigration policy and practice by making a key contribution to how skills and labour shortages are conceptualized for the purposes of policy; and (3) the work of trade unions and NGOs in the UK by demonstrating links between forced labour and labour market flexibility, a connection that has been taken up in campaigning.

In the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s states attempted to balance public anxiety about migration and the demand for migrant labour in specific sectors of an expanding economy. There was a shift to evidence-based policymaking coupled with considerable lobbying by a wide range of interested actors. This gave rise to a growing concern about migration and forced labour. In general, legal migration channels prioritized particular labour market sectors and highly skilled workers. The UK was unusual in not adopting transitional measures to limit the migration of nationals of new EU member states with EU Enlargement in 2004. The human rights consequences of greater mobility were mainly managed through anti-trafficking policies.

In this context, COMPAS research addressed the tension between labour market flexibilities and rights. The team examined the structures of key sectors with strong demand for migrant labour (particularly care work and domestic labour) and addressed the dynamics of “irregular” or “illegal” flows of people into the UK. COMPAS research pioneered an understanding of key labour markets, clarified comprehension of migrant “irregularity”, and developed a synthesis of quantitative economic analysis with ethnographic and qualitatively informed research, thereby initiating new interdisciplinary perspectives in a key area of policy formation both within the UK and across the globe.

COMPAS research has had significant impact on UK policy development, and shaped and informed international debates on both labour demand and trafficking and forced labour. It has also influenced the training of and the advice provided to NGOs and practitioners who are key players in policy formation, thereby furthering the influence of the research on immigration policy.


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