Wage theft: the missing middle in exploitation of migrant workers | openDemocracy

exploitation of migrant workers have focused on human tra cking.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on counter-tra cking

initiatives, particularly on trainings to ‘raise awareness’, criminal investigation and
prosecution, and shelter and ‘rehabilitation’ services.
More recently, the emergence of the modern slavery discourse has emphasised
the role of business in perpetuating the exploitation of workers. Against the
background of a worldwide pursuit of ever cheaper labour and reduced regulation,
encouraging more ethical business practices by the private sector has been
heralded as a force for change.
Technological solutions have also been posited as key to solving the problem of
human tra cking, including smart phone apps for reporting abuses, satellite
imagery to identify modern slavery from space, blockchain technology to eliminate
contract substitution, and big data to improve the evidence base.
Yet, there is limited evidence to show that these approaches have been e ective at
reducing the scale or severity of abuses that migrants experience. The empirical
data available to justify anti-tra cking and modern slavery initiatives has lagged
far behind their ever-increasing scope and hyperbole.
Despite this xation with extremes, less acute abuses against migrant workers are
much more common and have even become normalised in some contexts. For
example, a recent study in Australia found that nearly half of all migrants were
paid below the legal minimum wage. Estimates of the scale of wage violations
suggest that they cost low-wage workers $50 billion per year in the United States

Multinational firms actively comparison shop to find labour markets
which offer the greatest reduction in worker wages.

The everyday abuse of wage theft has received little attention in recent years. The
relevant international labour standard, the Protection of Wages Convention, 1949
(No. 95), has become so outdated that it prohibits ‘payment of wages in taverns’.


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