Migrant Labour Exploitation and Harm in UK Food Supply Chains

Student thesis: Phd


The research conducted for this thesis is an exploratory study of migrant workers' experiences in UK food supply chains. This thesis provides an original contribution to criminology by discussing how some food supply chain dynamics result in various exploitative and harmful labour practices against migrant workers. Data consisted of semi-structured interviews conducted with migrant workers in the UK, as well as individual and group interviews with food supply chain stakeholders, including representatives from industry, regulation, and labour movements. This research conceptualises labour exploitation as a continuum, with severe practices including modern slavery on one extreme and 'decent work' on the other. There are a range of practices in-between these two extremes that risk being overlooked, whereby 'routine', banal exploitation is embedded and normalised within legitimate supply chain processes. The argument developed in this thesis is that a stronger emphasis is needed on the harmful consequences of routine, mundane, everyday labour exploitation in order to understand how they can result from legitimate supply chain dynamics. The key contributions of this thesis can be summarised under four themes: developing a more rigorous analysis of 'routine' labour exploitation and harm against migrant workers; understanding how legitimate food supply chain dynamics can facilitate exploitation and harm; explaining how the regulatory framework may unwittingly result in further exploitation and harm to migrant workers; and recognising the complexity of the relationship between migration and labour exploitation. The thesis findings contribute to predominant discussions of labour exploitation that typically focus on severe exploitation such as modern slavery and emphasise rogue individuals or criminal networks as the main perpetrators. The research findings demonstrate that a significant amount of routine labour exploitation and harm remains 'under the radar' in the context of legitimate supply chain practices. Police action and supply chain regulation typically focuses on the most severe labour exploitation, which results in routine exploitation being largely unaddressed. Therefore, labour exploitation has implications for the nature, organisation, and control of harms facilitated by businesses and supply chains. It is important for criminology and society to not disregard routine labour exploitation, as these practices can result in numerous harmful consequences for workers. Since the public profile of labour exploitation continues to grow, a stronger focus is needed on the routine and banal aspects, not just the most severe practices.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJonathan Spencer (Supervisor) & Juanjo Medina (Supervisor)


  • Harm
  • Labour exploitation
  • Migrant workers
  • Food supply chains

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