Designing for the issue of labour exploitation

A systemic intervention to empower labour migrants

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Abstract

The issue of labour exploitation in the Netherlands has been gaining more attention lately. Regularly stories appear in the news in which employees are treated inhumanely by their employer, work in unsafe conditions, or live in unhealthy accommodations. The issue has also been gaining attention in politics. The advice of Aanjaagteam Bescherming Arbeidsmigranten, which was presented in 2020, marks an important milestone. Partially inspired by this advice, multiple major developments have been taking place recently. For example, the modification of the definition of labour exploitation in criminal law (Rijksoverheid, 2023), the compulsory certification of employment agencies as of 2025 (Rijksoverheid, 2022), and the separation of working- and housing contracts (ABU, 2023).

While these developments are a step forward, they will not completely tackle labour exploitation. Due to the complex nature of the phenomenon, multiple solutions are required to bring about systemic change. This project explores what systemic design could offer to the issue of labour exploitation in the Westland area.

Through different research methods, an understanding of the system surrounding labour migration and labour exploitation was created. Insights were yielded on the nature of the phenomenon, different response strategies and involved stakeholders, and the Westland context. Based on these insights, three search areas were identified and explored more in-depth. Next, the final focus for the design phase was determined and formulated into a design goal: empowering labour migrants through an intervention that gives them a sense of control over their own lives.

Finally, an online buddy platform that facilitates the exchange of experiences among migrants was designed. The interaction aims to build awareness about healthy (in)direct working conditions in the Netherlands and potential helplines. With this knowledge, migrants can prevent risks proactively, identify problematic situations quicker, and have the tools to deal with them. Evaluation of the concept with the target group and relevant experts indicated that it provides a valuable intervention to empower labour migrants. However, further development and evaluation as discussed in the recommendations are necessary. In addition, this intervention should be seen as one of many necessary to systematically improve the situation of labour migrants.