press release
Published: 13 March 2024

Calls for reform to manage potential risks of modern slavery for the UK's hospitality industry

The UK's tourism and hospitality industries, having a high concentration of migrant workers, face complex challenges in managing the risks of labour exploitation and modern slavery – according to a study from the University of Surrey.  

The possible risk indicators for modern slavery are due to a potentially vulnerable workforce, fragmented franchising, oversight challenges, and seasonal/temporary working arrangements. 

Researchers have introduced the concept of the ‘(in)conspicuous exploitariat’, highlighting the delicate balance between (dis)empowerment and the risks and opportunities within these vital sectors.  

The study identifies three major drivers contributing to the risks of labour exploitation and modern slavery for the UK's tourism and hospitality industries: 

  • Power imbalances are exacerbated by multi-tiered recruitment, precarious contracts, and scarcity of opportunities for workers to organise, with unionisation levels remaining low. 
  • Larger hotel chains recognise modern slavery and exploitation as risks, but more explicit attention to the issue is required. 
  • Insecurity among migrant workers adds another layer of vulnerability, making workers potentially reluctant to seek help or assert their rights. 

Professor Karen Bullock, lead author of the study and Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey, said: 

"Our research has shed light on the vulnerability of workers in these industries and the potential threats arising from evolving employment models. It's crucial for policymakers and employers to take note of these findings for informed decision-making and risk mitigation." 

While the UK government acknowledges the importance of combating exploitation, the study highlights potential institutional misalignments and governance gaps, advocating for a more nuanced understanding of labour issues in domestic supply chains. 

Researchers analysed data from interviews with industry professionals and stakeholders to unravel the complexities faced by the hospitality industry.  

Professor MariaLaura Di Domenico, co-author of the study and Professor of Entrepreneurship, Work and Organisation at the University of Surrey, said: 

“Collective action – from policymakers shaping regulations, to businesses fostering best practices – can help to empower workers and ensure that exploitation has no place in our societal fabric." 

The study also highlights the importance of recognising and commending hotels and other hospitality organisations that adopt exemplary employment practices, potentially serving as models for the industry. As consumers become more informed, managers are urged to exchange information on best practices and take proactive steps to minimise potential risks associated with modern slavery and labour exploitation. 


The full study has been published in the journal, Tourism Management


Note to editors: 

  • If you would like to speak to Professor Karen Bullock or Professor MariaLaura Di Domenico, please contact:

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