Modern slavery in the criminal family firm: misrecognition and symbolic violence in recruitment and retention practices

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of recruitment and retention practices in the criminal family firm and to provide theoretical explanation for the coercive nature of such practices. Design/methodology/approach: The case study methodology uses 18 semi-structured interviews, court transcripts and press reports to investigate a landmark case of modern slavery in the UK. Findings: The findings tentatively suggest that the trusting relationships typical of the legitimate family firm employers are replicated in a criminal business. Research limitations/implications: The theoretical implications of the paper are that Bourdieu's concepts of symbolic violence and misrecognition can be used to explain the process of worker exploitation in the family firm. Such psychological tools of domination maintain power in a situation of forced labour and blur the boundaries between employer/offender and worker/victim. From the perspective of understanding forced labour, Bourdieu's concept of misrecognition provides a theoretical framework for understanding the “stickiness” of exploitative workplace practices. Practical implications: The article suggests a non-economic explanation of why individuals choose to remain in poorly paid and exploitative labour, which will be of use to regulatory and enforcement bodies, seeking to understand the psychological and structural drivers of forced labour. Originality/value: Despite press interest in modern slavery in family firms, such cases have been rarely analysed in family firm literature. The paper contributes to the limited explorations of criminality in family firm businesses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-295
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Family Business Management
Issue number2
Early online date23 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2022


  • Bourdieu
  • Family business
  • Forced labour
  • Misrecognition
  • Modern slavery
  • Symbolic violence


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