abusesaffiliationarrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upattack-typeburgerchevron-downchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upClock iconclosedeletedevelopment-povertydiscriminationdollardownloademailenvironmentexternal-linkfacebookfiltergenderglobegroupshealthC4067174-3DD9-4B9E-AD64-284FDAAE6338@1xinformation-outlineinformationinstagraminvestment-trade-globalisationissueslabourlanguagesShapeCombined Shapeline, chart, up, arrow, graphLinkedInlocationmap-pinminusnewsorganisationotheroverviewpluspreviewArtboard 185profilerefreshIconnewssearchsecurityPathStock downStock steadyStock uptagticktooltiptwitteruniversalityweb

The content is also available in the following languages: español

International Migrants Day: Global analysis 2023

Between December 1 2022 and November 30 2023, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (the Resource Centre) recorded 613 human rights abuse allegations against migrant workers toiling in supply chains across the globe. 

These allegations contained in the Resource Centre’s new Migrant Workers Allegations Database (the Database) span nearly all key sectors – from renewable energy to hospitality to agriculture – and occurred in all regions of the world. While the Database highlights a range of key trends in migrant worker abuse recorded over the past year, alongside company action - and inaction - in response, one thing is clear: as some of the most vulnerable in global supply chains, migrant workers are bearing the brunt of converging global crises and facing rising abuse, even as major brands rely on their labour. Protection for migrant workers by brands is more than achievable: those who are clear on their human rights responsibilities will recognise our recommendations are within reach and will have concrete impacts for their migrant workforce.

Explore the data through this interactive webpage to see the types of threats migrant workers face, which industries benefit from abuse and which migration corridors are most dangerous for the workers who use them. We also spotlight key cases of migrant worker abuse throughout the year, get updates from those organisations supporting these workers’ fight for justice, and highlight the voices and experiences of migrant workers themselves.

Converging crises and vulnerabilities in 2023

Migrant workers are an integral feature of multinational business models, with 164 million international migrants employed in global supply chains contributing a projected USD840 billion in 2023 remittances to origin countries and families.

They are also at the core of interconnecting vulnerabilities, leaving them open to unscrupulous employers: lacking access to social security, information, unions and advocates, and experiencing social marginalisation, including discrimination and xenophobia. Companies must be alert to the intersecting racial, gender, class and caste injustices that form specific disadvantages and facilitate migrant worker abuse. Migrant women and women from the Global South, for example, report worse and more wide-ranging abuse, as well as greater limitations on access to remedy or grievance channels. Further, multiple converging crises throughout 2023, including rising geopolitical conflict and a global cost-of-living crisis, are contributing to overall levels of global movement, insecurity, and disproportionately impact migrant workers. This was significantly augmented by climate change: 2023 was a year of broken temperature records, with workers experiencing acute heat stress and destroyed livelihoods – particularly for agricultural workers - driving distressed migration.

Yet, despite their significant contribution to economies of destination and origin states, and to the global supply chains that depend on them, findings from the 613 cases recorded over the past year reveal serious gaps when it comes to protection of migrant workers’ rights. While companies should be conducting rigorous human rights due diligence to protect their migrant workforces, findings instead reveal systemic failure to take responsibility for and address labour rights abuse along their value chains. This falls short of the requirements of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights (UNGPs) but is also a lost opportunity to empower a key, productive workforce.

As mandatory human rights due diligence regulations are increasingly adopted, business must catch up when it comes to acknowledging the particularly vulnerable and high-risk nature of migrant labour - spotlit by this 2023 round up. At a minimum, companies must ensure human rights due diligence is cascaded throughout their transnational supply chains. As our data shows, full supply chain transparency allowing workers and allies to raise allegations and better access remedy is key for enabling businesses to confront the challenges facing their migrant workers during recruitment, at work and once they return home.

Read our full recommendations to business.

“We were afraid [our employer would] kill us, throw us somewhere, and no one would find us…Our families would have no idea what happened”

Peruvian sheepherder in Wyoming, USA - Food & Environment Reporting Network

Driving corporate accountability

389 named companies were linked to 613 recorded cases in the database.

Fifty-four named companies were repeat offenders (linked to two or more cases), over 90% were headquartered in high-income countries, and the majority were buyers or clients at the top of supply chains. This reflects the complexity of cases, with companies implicated in abuse headquartered in a country outside workers’ countries of origin and destination in roughly one third of cases. Big brands gain material benefits from migrants thousands of miles away, labouring at the bottom of highly complex, transnational supply chains.

Alongside tracking allegations, we reached out to named companies linked to alleged abuse through their operations and supply chains to invite them to respond. The overall response rate from companies across all sectors and geographies was 60%, and the Resource Centre welcomes these businesses’ commitment to this first level of public accountability. However, when asked, most responses failed to include adequate information related to the allegations, with many companies silent on whether they remedy labour rights abuse, monitor working conditions or conduct due diligence on recruitment agencies and suppliers. Accountability efforts were further frustrated as businesses remained anonymous in the majority of tracked cases (55%), while workers explicitly said they feared naming their employer due to the risk of retaliation.

Key findings

  • We recorded 613 cases of alleged abuse of migrant workers between 1 December 2022 and 30 November 2023
  • The most frequently cited category of abuse was violations of employment standards (wage, working hour or leave violations, arbitrary dismissal or excessive performance targets - 64%), followed by arbitrary denial of freedoms (36%), occupational health and safety breaches (36%), and unfair recruitment practices (34%)
    • Wage theft featured in 38% of cases
    • Recruitment fee-charging was reported in 27% of cases
    • 90 worker deaths were recorded across 62 cases
    • Heat exposure, in some cases leading to illness, heat stress and death, was reported in 8% of cases; this is set to increase in the context of climate change and rapidly rising instances of extreme weather events.
  • The Asia-Pacific region features as both the highest sending and receiving region for migrants, while the Americas, Europe and the Middle East are also significant receiving regions
    • The hotspots for abuse in each region are Malaysia, Qatar, UK and USA
    • Workers most frequently impacted in the cases are from Nepal, the Philippines and India
    • The majority of companies linked to abuses were headquartered in North America and Europe, with USA, UK and Qatar-headquartered companies most frequently named
  • Sectors most frequently linked to migrant worker abuse are:
    • Agri-food supply chains in 37% of cases (across farms, processors, and retailers)
    • Construction (16%)
    • Manufacturing (7%)
    • Hotels, restaurants and leisure (6%)
    • Cleaning and maintenance (5%)

See our recommendations to business below on assessing, mitigating and remedying salient risks to migrant workers.

A snapshot of abuse

The scope and scale of migrant worker abuse is immense. The publicly reported cases outlined in this database are therefore just the tip of the iceberg, providing a snapshot of the vulnerability of migrant workers around the world. Total cases are unquestionably higher, with many migrant workers reporting fear of retaliation for speaking up. Further information on our methodology can be found here.

Migrant worker abuse: Key trends for 2023

Most types of recorded abuse related to workers’ employment standards (64%), denial of fundamental freedoms (including of expression, movement and association - 36%), breaches of health and safety (36%), and unfair recruitment practices (34%). However, workers also frequently reported being housed inadequately, subjected to physical and verbal harassment, and, in the worst cases, worker deaths were reported owing to occupational health and safety failures. For the workers themselves, documentation by NGOs and media was often their only option to raise concerns or leverage to progress complaints. In each recorded case, workers may have experienced one or several abuses simultaneously.

“Agricultural and low-wage streams of the Temporary Foreign Workers Programme … constitute a breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery”

Tomoya Obokata’s (UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery) end of mission statement after visiting Canada


The Resource Centre mapped a total of 90 migrant workers’ deaths due to alleged corporate neglect or abuse over the past year, though this number is almost certainly much higher, given that many migrant worker deaths go unreported and not investigated. Most fatalities (75 deaths) were explicitly linked to breaches in occupational health and safety standards, including harsh working conditions and prolonged exposure to hazardous environments, from heat to toxic chemicals. Importantly, deaths did not happen in isolation from other types of recorded abuse. In 33 of the 62 cases (53%) involving fatalities, employers reportedly subjected migrants to other forms of abuse, including recruitment fee-charging, wage theft, inadequate living standards and a lack of access to remedy. A gradual erosion of rights often preceded extreme violence and death, suggesting fatalities could have been prevented if migrants were able to complain and escape abusive working conditions earlier.

“[The migrant worker] was not provided with medical assistance. The manager sent a colleague to retrieve [his] clothes, without informing his family. They changed the clothes on the deceased body [out of his work clothes], then the manager drove it to the Las Noras Medical Office, where they left it abandoned at the entrance without identification and without sharing any facts about what had happened”

SOC-SAT Union on the death of a migrant farmworker while spraying chemicals in a greenhouse, Spain - Ethical Consumer

  • 12 deaths were attributed to heat stress, including on farms, ships and construction sites.
  • Most deaths occurred either on farms (29 deaths) or among construction workers (25 deaths).
  • Denied access to healthcare: In 12 cases where workers later died, employers reportedly told workers they did not need medical treatment, refused to drive them to the hospital, or refused them sick leave. In one case, a farm manager in Spain changed the clothes of a worker who died after spraying chemicals inside a greenhouse and left his body outside the entrance to a medical centre without explanation or identification.
  • The highest number of fatalities at once was recorded in April when 16 people, including seven workers from India and Pakistan, died in a fire at their accommodation in Dubai which officials said was caused by a “lack of compliance with building security and safety requirements”.
  • Reflecting the appalling impact of labour exploitation on migrants’ mental health, in two cases workers died by suicide. In one case a Nepali worker in Kuwait was burdened by debt after being charged USD4,000 to obtain the job; his death was discovered after he failed to call his wife as usual.

Issue snapshot

Recruitment fees, heat exposure and barriers to access to remedy were among frequently reported issues.

Cleaner migrant worker

Recruitment fee charging

Migrant workers were charged recruitment fees in 163 cases

Cleaner migrant worker

Recruitment fee charging

Migrant workers were charged recruitment fees in 163 cases

“I might have taken around two years to pay off my debt as I did not have good earnings and it was not even enough to manage my expenses here... The moneylender would nag us to get back his money soon and my cousin collected money from other places and cleared my debt.”

Migrant worker, Malaysia - International Organization for Migration

  • Migrant workers were charged recruitment fees in 163 cases (27%)
  • Employers or companies whose supply chains workers were burdened by fees were named in 52 cases

Recruitment fee-charging is a well-documented driver of forced labour for migrant workers globally, despite international standards stating no worker should pay for a job and the costs of recruitment should be borne by the employer alone (Employer Pays Principle). Over the past year, migrants were charged recruitment fees in 163 (27%) cases, destined for workplaces across Europe, the Gulf, South East Asia, the USA and Australasia. Although named employers or companies at the top of supply chains were linked to 52 (32%) of the 163 cases where workers were charged fees, these big multinationals with the greatest leverage rarely publicly commit to or reimburse workers for charges and debt accrued. In an example of better practice, renewable energy company First Solar transparently disclosed uncovering instances of forced labour, including fee-charging to migrant workers, through social audits and said it had taken steps to remediate the abuse, including reimbursing recruitment fees. Moreover, for some sectors, recruitment-fee repayment and prevention are gradually becoming accepted practice. Research from the Resource Centre’s KnowTheChain project at the start of the year found companies in the ICT sector are increasingly cognisant of risks to migrant workers in the supply chain, with technology giants Apple and HPE both disclosing steps to address instances of fee-charging to remedy workers – and reporting this transparently. Regardless of the legality of charging fees in workers’ home countries, companies reliant on migrant labour in their supply chains must recognise their responsibility to prevent and remedy this significant financial burden: a burden carried not only by the worker but also their family and, in some cases, whole communities.

Heat stress notice at construction site, Qatar

Heat exposure

Heat exposure featured in 48 cases. 12 cases led to deaths.

Heat stress notice at construction site, Qatar

Heat exposure

Heat exposure featured in 48 cases. 12 cases led to deaths.

“My clothes would be completely drenched in sweat. My body would itch and I developed heat rashes…But if I took a break ... the people from the company I was working for would reprimand me…I’d get very thirsty but couldn’t drink water because there wasn’t a tap nearby”

- Migrant swimming pool lifeguard, UAE - Vital Signs Project

  • Heat exposure, often leading to illness or heat stress, was reported in 48 (8%) cases and resulted in deaths in 12 cases
  • Agricultural (22 cases) and construction (15 cases) workers were particularly impacted
  • Most heat exposure cases (24) were reported in the Gulf states

2023 was a year of broken temperature records across the world. Exacerbated by climate change, workers in both indoor and outdoor workplaces were exposed to dangerously high temperatures, while employers were simply under-prepared to respond to the climate crisis and its impacts on their workers’ health and well-being. Meanwhile, the issue is an increasing priority for trade unions, with demands for heat mitigation measures supplementing campaigns on wages, shift schedules and holiday leave. Agriculture and construction workers were most frequently impacted (in 22 and 15 cases), unsurprising given work environments that require outdoor labour with few opportunities for respite from the heat, increasing the risk of dehydration and, ultimately, heat stress. Most cases were recorded in the Gulf, particularly the United Arab Emirates (11 cases), Qatar (eight) and Saudi Arabia (five cases). Alongside complaints of heat exposure, workers also reported poor and unsanitary housing and limited access to hospitals or medicine - conditions which undoubtedly exacerbate the worst heat effects. One Mexican worker exposed to heat in North Carolina said the remote location of the tobacco field he works on makes it “very difficult” to access medical care when needed. This reality can have fatal effects, with 12 reported deaths from heat exposure recorded in our database from across the globe in the past year. In one case, a Mexican tomatillo farmer in California, USA, reported to his supervisor he felt ill at work amid extreme heat. His supervisor did not help or report the incident, but told coworkers to take him to hospital. He later collapsed and died.

United Farm Workers protest California 2016

Access to remedy & redress

Workers in 175 cases experienced intimidation or harassment

United Farm Workers protest California 2016

Access to remedy & redress

Workers in 175 cases experienced intimidation or harassment

“I am waiting for my compensation and the closure of the case. Then I want to take my wife to Italy, where I have decided to build a house. I can’t wait for good days to come”

Indian farmworker who took his employer to court following six years of abuse in Italy - Al Jazeera

  • Workers in 175 cases experienced intimidatory, violent or harassing behaviour at work or by recruitment agencies
  • Workers’ freedom of expression was restricted in 63 cases

Migrant workers face multiple barriers to accessing justice and remedy, despite business’ responsibility to ensure access to remedy under the UNGPs. Migrant workers reported intimidatory, violent or harassing behaviour at work or by recruitment agencies in 175 cases, a lack of access to information in 32 cases, and restrictions to freedom of expression in 63 cases. These conditions further inhibit an already vulnerable workforce from speaking up for fear of reprisal - anything from deducted wages and being refused shift work, to detention and deportation.

  • Workers in 94 cases said they had tried to access support or redress but could not; workers in the Gulf were disproportionately impacted (31 cases)
  • Workers lacked or were denied information about their rights in 32 cases

We recorded 94 cases where workers said they had tried to access support or redress for alleged abuse but were either unable to voice or file complaints, were ignored by employers or recruiters, or court or labour department decisions were not enacted. Barriers to accessing remedy were disproportionately experienced by workers to the Gulf region, which accounted for 31 cases and where migrant workers face severe restrictions to movement and organising. And in 32 cases, migrant workers reported a lack of access to information about their rights, including who to turn to for remedy and unfamiliarity with both internal and external channels.

Even where workers can use mechanisms for redress, remedy remains out of reach. In one case, a shop worker in Bahrain took her employer to court for denying her wages and days off. While the court ruled in her favour, the employer said he could not repay her owed dues because the business was insolvent – a common problem across the Gulf where workers’ wages are not necessarily privileged in the event of liquidation. In another, workers for Rafeeq delivery service in Qatar said they were deported after their employer filed an absconding charge when they complained about “constant wage theft”.

“When you come to a new country and I’m by myself, I would like to …have a support group to talk to other people who are going through what I’m going [through], low wages, paying really high fines, not having friends”

Latin American female hospitality worker, UK - Focus on Labour Exploitation and The Young Foundation

The impacts of unregulated, transnational supply chains and a failure to undertake adequate human rights due diligence on risks to migrant workers have a startling impact; the Resource Centre recorded abuse happening in, and impacting migrant workers from, every region of the world. In a third of cases where companies were identifiable, companies associated with abuse were headquartered outside either the country of origin or destination, with European and North American companies benefitting most from abuse in global supply chains. Of the 54 companies who were repeat offenders (linked to two or more cases over the year), over 90% were headquartered in higher-income countries.

Scroll through the maps below to explore which regions sent and received the most migrant workers in the database, hotspots for abuse in region and regions of company headquarters

Industries contributing to food supply chains – agriculture, fishing, and food processing and packaging – are most frequently linked to abuse cases recorded in the database. Companies in construction and engineering, manufacturing, hotels restaurants and leisure, and cleaning and maintenance were the next most frequently linked to abuse – as employers, suppliers or buyers at the top of supply chains. Wage theft and occupational health and safety breaches were each among the top five reported risks for every sector.

Explore the cases linked to sectors below.

Agri-food supply chains

Key findings

  • Agri-food supply chains accounted for the highest (37%) proportion of recorded cases across the world.
  • In agriculture, most recorded cases occurred on USA (53 cases) and UK farms (27 cases).
  • Women farmworkers were underrepresented in the dataset, but did report gender-based risks including pay discrimination, sexual harassment and unsegregated accommodation.
  • Twenty-one supermarkets headquartered in America or Europe are linked to 22 cases over the past year; Tesco is linked to eight cases, Hannaford is linked to five, Lidl is linked to four, Kroger, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and the Co-Operative Group are linked to three each.
  • Fishing accounted for 19% of agri-food supply chain cases; migrant fishers most commonly reported restricted freedom of movement (19 cases), long working hours and inadequate rest and breaches of occupational health and safety (14 cases each), intimidation (12 cases), wage theft (11 cases).
  • Processing and packaging accounted for 9% agri-food supply chain cases. Shockingly, seven cases included child labour, recorded in factories in the USA. 

Of the 224 total cases linked to food supply chains, 158 cases (71%) are found in agriculture, 42 (19%) in fishing, 20 (9%) in processing and packaging, and four (2%) were on the shop floor. The workers who harvest, process and pack our food at the bottom of agri-food supply chains are regarded as essential workers yet face severe exploitation, with the complex nature of these supply chains making it difficult for companies to clearly understand where or how their goods are sourced. This should not, however, absolve them of responsibility to identify salient risks and respect the rights of supply chain workers.

Globally, in agriculture, the most commonly reported abuse was occupational health and safety violations (61 cases). Workers died or were injured due to heat exposure amid a lack of water breaks or shade, machine safety failures, exposure to pesticides, hard physical labour without rest, and other safety violations. Wage theft was also commonly reported (53 cases), alongside precarious or unsuitable living conditions (55 cases), and intimidation (48 cases). Abuses occurred in every region of the globe, but were most commonly reported on farms in the USA (52 cases) followed by the UK (28 cases).

The fishing industry accounted for 19% of agri-food supply chain cases, with workers most commonly describing abuse on Chinese, Irish, South Korean and UK-flagged vessels. Restricted freedom of movement was most frequently reported by fishers (in 19 cases) who often spent months at sea. Extremely long working hours - at worst, working 20 hours a day – and occupational health and safety breaches were common (in 14 cases each). These were followed by wage theft and intimidation by captains. Migrants also reported severe physical violence, with no way to complain or escape - one worker witnessed a colleague beaten to death - and passports were withheld to prevent them “running away”.

A total of 9% of cases in agri-food supply chains related to processing and packaging. Shockingly, child labour was a significant risk for migrants in the USA. Children were injured and killed due to hazardous working conditions, missed education to attend shifts, and experienced mental health problems due to the lack of sleep and stress caused by their work.

In focus: Migrant labour abuse on USA and UK farms

Exploitation on fruit and vegetable (49%) and dairy farms (21%) accounted for most abuse in the USA. In cases where the nationality of the worker was known, Mexican workers were most frequently impacted (76% of cases) and abused workers in publicly reported cases were more likely to be male (31 cases, with only three cases impacting women). While H-2A visa holders were impacted in at least two-thirds, abuse of undocumented workers was likely underreported: between 50% - 75% of US farm hands are estimated to be undocumented. Heat exposure was reported in 12 cases, attributed to employer inaction and a lack of government protections at county, state, and federal levels. Injuries due to the physical strain of labour, accidents related to machinery, and exposure to pesticides were also reported. The dangerous nature of agricultural work was compounded by migrants living onsite in proximity to hazardous conditions, as occupational risks spill into migrants’ non-working lives. In 21 cases, migrants reported living in precarious, unsafe or unsanitary housing.

Migrants on UK farms came from a broader range of countries than those in the USA. Nepali workers were impacted in six cases, South Africans in four cases, and Indonesians in three, alongside seven other nationalities. Divisions between nationalities and language barriers made collective resistance (such as strike action) more difficult, catalysed by racial abuse and discrimination from supervisors, which isolated workers from one another and reduced the likelihood of worker solidarity. Women were also represented at a higher rate (44%) than the USA and global average, though abuse of women workers is less likely to be visible than of male farmworkers. Women reported specific gender-based risks, such as sharing caravans with men without locks.

The most common violation was recruitment fee-charging (44% of cases). Alongside the cost of visas and flights, workers paid extortionate fees to unlicensed brokers to cover administrative costs, bribes and other payments. Workers took out loans to pay fees, and debt was exacerbated due to poverty wages, especially for workers withdrawn from work for not reaching picking targets or who received no work for months after arrival. In January, responding to recruitment fee-charging in Nepal, scheme operators began hiring elsewhere. However, fees were reportedly paid by Serbians, Azerbaijanis, Bulgarians, Indonesians, and South Africans, reflecting the ubiquity of fee-charging irrespective of the migration corridor. Civil society has criticised the inefficacy of moving elsewhere when abuse is discovered without addressing systemic drivers.

“Even before we start work the supervisors would be screaming at us... they would treat you like an animal”

South African farmworker, UK - Bureau of Investigative Journalism

While there have been some initiatives this year to address the intersection between supply chain abuse and purchasing power, such as the UK’s Supermarket Taskforce, progress had stalled by July after a commitment to undertake audits was not carried out. NGOs left the group in August, criticising its inaction. Even more concerningly, in October 2023, evidence emerged the government knew about hundreds of cases of alleged migrant abuse but took no action and allegedly tried to stop the information becoming public. It is imperative companies recognise their responsibility to respect human rights goes beyond government standards, laws and guidance, when the state itself is accused of failing to protect migrants’ rights.

"We would wake up at 2:30 pm and work … until 5:00 or 6:00 am in the morning until the next day. We don’t have any days off. We worked for almost 16 hours. We were not allowed to sit because the captain and seniors would scold us.”

Crew member from a squid jigger, South Korea - Environmental Justice Foundation and Advocates for Public Interest Law

Market pressures on suppliers

Abuse in agri-food supply chains should be viewed within the context of global supermarkets’ monopoly of food and beverage retail, and the harms their purchasing practices cause to supply chain workers. Twenty-one supermarkets headquartered in America or Europe are linked to 22 cases over the past year. The majority are repeat offenders, linked to cases in the database at least twice or more. Together the brands have huge combined market power. In the USA, four or fewer firms control over 40% of the market share of most groceries. Further, while supermarkets in both the USA and UK do display a high rate of engagement with the Resource Centre’s outreach, averaging an almost 100% response rate globally, responses lack both quality and quantity of information. Brands must directly address allegations, outline due diligence mechanisms and provide information on successful worker access to remedy if they wish to be credited with taking human rights responsibilities seriously.

The cost-of-living crisis is reportedly increasing pricing pressure, amid the proliferation of fixed contracts for growers. Monopolisation means price pressures are impossible for suppliers to avoid, facilitating a race to the bottom in terms of price. These risks are passed to workers in farms and fisheries, resulting in reduced wages, and poor working and living conditions – contrasting sharply with the huge profits made by supermarkets.

The Resource Centre’s 2023 KnowTheChain benchmark assessment of 60 of the world’s largest food and beverage multinationals on their efforts to address such forced labour in supply chains was woeful. Only 50% scored over 10/ 100 points, with companies performing particularly poorly on efforts to empower workers, prevent abuse from happening in the first place, remedy abuse when it does occur and address unfair recruitment practices. This is deeply concerning for a sector so dependent on migrant workers. In the database, Tesco particularly stands out, linked to eight allegations of food supply chain abuse, Hannaford to five cases, Lidl is linked to four, Co-Operative Group, Kroger, Morrisons, and Sainsbury’s are linked to three cases. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Walmart were all listed among the top 10 scorers in the KnowTheChain benchmark, despite scoring no more than 52%, and highlighting that stronger performance on paper to safeguard workers’ rights yet being implicated in that abuse are not mutually exclusive. Similarly, not being linked explicitly to abuse cases does not itself evidence strong policies and practices by companies.

“Where farmers struggle to stay afloat through being squeezed by retailers, these costs are passed onto workers who are in turn overworked, underpaid, and exploited to bear the brunt of supermarkets’ excessive purchasing power”

Clark McAllister, UK House of Lords’ Horticultural Sector Committee’s 2023 report

Explore stats on other sectors where we recorded high levels of abuse:

Recommendations to companies:

  • Top tier brands must commit to full and public supply chain transparency, including use of contractors, subcontractors, labour suppliers and recruitment agencies. This is key to allowing migrant workers and their allies to raise concerns and access remedy. It forms an integral avenue for businesses’ own due diligence to identify risk and ensure the welfare of workers linked to their operations.

  • Adopt a migrant worker-centred approach, in line with international standards of equality and non-discrimination across all grounds, to identify salient risks to migrant workforces throughout supply chains:
    • Acknowledge the heightened risk of abuse for subcontracted and supply chain workers, cascade binding standards throughout supply chains and work with suppliers to ensure they are upheld;
    • Consult with key stakeholders including migrant worker-focused civil society organisations, diaspora groups and unions with migrant member and leadership. Seek insights into risks, drivers of abuse, and the components of an effective action plan to mitigate risks.

  • Implement policies to mitigate risks specific to migrant workers:
    • Commit to international standards that call for the implementation of the Employer Pays Principle, that employers and not workers must bear the costs of recruitment rather than the worker;
    • Implement accessible and transparent operational level grievance mechanisms that are responsive to workers’ needs, including all supply chain - subcontracted and outsourced - workers, irrespective of nationality, and in workers’ languages;
    • Expect and encourage an enabling environment for migrant workers to join and form trade unions along supply chains, through a strong commitment to the principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining in sectors and among workforces where union organising is a particular challenge.

  • Respond proactively to allegations of migrant worker abuse:
    • Investigate raised concerns regarding working conditions for migrants, whether from workers themselves, civil society, unions or media sources;
    • Privilege workers’ own testimony over audit and paper trails by explicitly adopting a worker-centric approach to investigations, accept the truth of workers’ claims and set the burden of proof on business partners to prove abuse did not occur;
    • Commit to remedy harms in consultation with impacted workers or their representatives, including (but not limited to) reimbursement for fee-charging, interest gained on loans and wage theft, compensation for harms including physical and mental health support, and ensuring access to decent, regular jobs; ensure the provision of remedy accommodates workers who have returned home.

  • Recognise explicitly the harms inherent in state immigration policies and bridge the gap with international standards:
    • Where recruitment fees are baked into temporary labour migration schemes, commit to cover all costs for workers’ to obtain their jobs, including government charges for visas, access to social security and welfare and all other administrative charges in line with the Employer Pays Principle;
    • Within sponsorship schemes reliant on tied visas, commit to facilitate workers’ transfer to other jobs and companies as far as legally possible; where relevant provide documentation up-front to workers on their joining employment that would allow them to move jobs smoothly.

  • Collaborate to use the collective leverage of brands to press governments for greater protection of migrants, and human rights due diligence as part of the need to create a more robust level playing field for responsible brands, suppliers, and recruitment agencies.

About Us

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO which tracks the human rights impacts of over 10,000 companies in over 180 countries, making information available on our 10-language website

Authors: Isobel Archer & Catriona Fraser

Support: Natalie Swan & Michael Clements

We are thankful for the work of partners and other NGOs, without whose efforts to document ongoing abuse of migrant workers and shed a light on the worst forms of marginalisation and exploitation this analysis would not be possible. This work was supported by Humanity United.