our project

Precarious Lives is an 18 month research project (March 11 to Sep 12) run jointly by academics at the University of Leeds and University of Salford with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The aim of the study is to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of forced and exploitative labour among asylum seekers and refugees living in England.

Our working definition of forced labour draws from the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention on Forced Labour (1930) that defines forced and compulsory labour as ‘all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily’. But we are considering alternative understandings of labour exploitation that, while not strictly forced, are nevertheless not ‘freely entered into’.

People seeking asylum are normally prohibited from working. However, limited or non-existent welfare entitlements and pressures to earn money to pay off debts or support family may push asylum seekers into the shadow economy. Refugees who may have had long periods out of work while their asylum case was considered are also vulnerable to labour exploitation. There is anecdotal evidence that refugees and asylum seekers are drawn into exploitative and possibly forced labour. However, there is no systematic research documenting asylum seekers’ and refugees’ experiences of forced labour in England and the reasons why they are drawn into it.

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