Exploitation of labour should be defined as a form of corporate crime

Published 25.11.2016
The doctoral dissertation of HEUNI's Senior Programme Officer Natalia Ollus, Turku University, Faculty of Law, reveals that the exploitation of migrant workers in the Finnish labour market is structural. More serious forms of exploitation, such as trafficking, are born out of the overall misuse and exploitation of migrant workers. There is also inadequate control and sanctions against these types of crimes. The research concludes that work-related exploitation should be defined as a form of corporate crime.

The changing labour market

The underlining narrative of the research is the changing labour market, where global competition has led to production being moved to cheaper locations, and to other forms of cost-cutting such as outsourcing. As a result, the workforce is expected to be ever more flexible, especially in the low-level jobs, where most of the migrants work. Doctoral candidate Ollus explains: “I understand exploitation and trafficking as a consequence of developments and changes in the economy and the labour markets. Although human trafficking has been common throughout human history, exploitation and forced labour in European societies are today closely linked to the major changes and shifts in the economy and the labour markets".

From forced flexibility to forced labour

The research arose out of the realization that a number of migrant workers in Finland are being misused at work, working long hours for poor pay, and their freedom was being controlled by their employers in various ways. Although this was recognized by law, it was not adequately recognized by the authorities. Ollus says: “Many migrant workers are forced to be extremely flexible and to take jobs on poor terms due to a lack of other alternatives. At the same time, the demand for employee flexibility has become a self-evident feature, and thus a structure of the labour market."

The research highlights that the forms of exploitation that migrant workers experience range from infringements of the regulations on working hours and underpayment of salaries to more serious and comprehensive forms of exploitation. There is a continuum of exploitation where the line between acceptable contractual practices and clear exploitation diminishes. The research also argues that a narrow interpretation of what constitutes forced labour will result in an emphasis on only the extreme forms of exploitation. Ollus specifies: “when we interpret what constitutes forced labour, we should look at the overall circumstances and the lack of alternatives to quit working, the lack of awareness of rights and contacts outside work, as well as debt and the real economic possibilities that the worker has."

Broadening the definition of corporate crime

The exploitation of workers is profitable mainly because workers are paid (too) little or nothing for (too) long working hours. The exploitation is thus built around the goal of maximising profit through underpayment of wages. Ollus argues that: “The exploitation of migrant workers – and ultimately trafficking for forced labour – is a form of intentional misuse of employees for the purpose of financial gain, and therefore should be defined as a corporate crime." The categorization of ‘exploitative crimes and harms of the employer’ proposed in the research would expand the scope of corporate crimes to include the exploitation of employees by their employers not only as crimes of economic misuse or workplace safety crimes, but also as infringements of the rights of individual workers.

M.Soc.Sc. Natalia Ollus will present her thesis ‘From Forced Flexibility to Forced Labour: The Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Finland’ for public examination at the University of Turku on Friday, 2 December at 12.15 (address: University of Turku, Educarium, Edu 1, Assistentinkatu 5, Turku).

The opponent is Professor Elina Pirjatanniemi (Åbo Akademi University) and the custos Professor Anne Alvesalo-Kuusi (University of Turku). The defense will be held in Finnish.

M.Soc.Sc. Natalia Ollus was born in 1974. She earned her Master’s degree at the University of Helsinki in 2001. Ms Ollus works as Senior Programme Officer at the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Contro, affiliated with the United Nations (HEUNI). The dissertation falls within the discipline of the sociology of law.

For more information: Senior Programme Officer Natalia Ollus, natalia.ollus(at)om.fi, +358 50 5135987

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