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

Is there a case for shifting the focus of engagement to these more ‘mundane’
abuses against migrant workers? This article presents some of the key arguments
for increasing attention to the denial of remuneration and bene ts to migrants
under the rubric of ‘wage theft’.

Wage exploitation is a key motivation for
employing migrant workers
Within a globalised economy, choices about where to source or manufacture
products are frequently based on the availability of low-cost labour and a
permissive environment for industry. As labour is typically the largest cost of
outsourced production, multinational rms actively comparison shop to nd
labour markets which o er the greatest reduction in worker wages.
This creates enormous pressure on their upstream suppliers to constantly pursue
lower labour costs, including through underpayment of migrant workers. In many
labour-intensive industries, these market forces create business models which are
only able to remain pro table due to various forms of wage theft.
The recent unbridled enthusiasm for self-regulation through corporate social
responsibility and sustainability initiatives has not been successful in eliminating
these abuses. Instead, they have largely undercut demands for legally enforceable
labour standards and marginalised the plight of migrant workers outside global
supply chains. Only workers whose conditions are highlighted by their proximity to
markets in the Global North are understood to deserve attention, and the power is
placed in the hands of consumers and corporations to e ect change rather than
workers themselves.

Restrictive labour migration regimes create
structural vulnerabilities to wage the
The basic premise for admitting migrant workers to a destination country is
typically to address a labour shortage in a particular sector or geographic region. If
admission of migrants can hold down wages in these industries or areas, the
economy is seen as bene tting from the increased supply of low-cost labour.


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