A failure to hold companies to account for lesser labour abuses from late wage payments to excessive overtime creates a breeding ground for the worst forms of modern slavery to thrive, the top United Nations expert on human trafficking said.
Businesses are judged only on their efforts to curb extreme forms of labour exploitation, leaving more common abuses unchecked and likely to lead to even poorer working conditions, according to U.N. special rapporteur Maria Grazia Giammarinaro.
Minor labour abuses are so widespread that workers often do not realise they are being exploited, or are reluctant to speak out for fear of backlash – from being fired to deported in the case of undocumented migrants – the Italian judge said.
“Exploitation, and therefore trafficking, begins with the enabling of a breeding ground for the disregard of fundamental labour rights,” she said in a report presented to the U.N. last week, in which she referred to a “continuum of exploitation”.
To identify the worst forms of labour abuse in global supply chains, addressing broader areas of exploitation is essential, Giammarinaro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
Yet the traditional law enforcement approach is ineffective, she said, calling for workers to be able to report abuses using other avenues and supported to obtain compensation if exploited.
“The identified cases are very few,” she said. “We have to explore further different avenues to make trafficking cases emerge. I think trafficking should seen by governments not as criminal issue, primarily, but as a social issue.”
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