Explorations of forced labour amongst Chinese migrant workers

This project is a partnership between Manchester Metropolitan University’s Research Institute for Health & Social Change and Wai Yin Society, and funded by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The project started in October 2009 and will last for 18 months.

Our aim is to gain an in-depth understanding of the experiences of forced labour amongst Chinese communities in the North West of England and Northern Ireland, and to identify different pathways as circumstances change. Specifically, we will:

  • Examine the different ways that workers ambitions, decisions and actions interact with social and cultural conditions to influence their experiences of forced labour;
  • Explore the role of social networks, life events, transitions and turning points in the experience of forced labour over time; and
  • Identify different trajectories into, within and from forced labour combining individual agency, social and cultural condition, life events and social networks.

We anticipate that the research will yeild findings of relevance to immigration and employment policy, but also to social and health welfare policies. Throughout we will endeavour to protect the interests of the forced laourours and their welfare will be a priority.

Research design and methods

Our Mandarin-speaking researcher will work with six co-researchers who are, themselves, vulnerable workers, and who have been involved with the Sunshine project of Wai Yin.

The first phase of the research will, through word of mouth, involve vulnerable workers from the North West of England, who have been in the UK for varying lengths of time and who are working in different sectors. They will be interviewed using a life-stoy method, which will enable them to discuss the personal journeys they have made from China to their current work situation. Their stories will reveal the ways in which their own decision making, social networks, and life events have contributed to turning points in their experiences of forced labour.

The second phase will be to share these experiences with workers from the Chinese Welfare Association in Belfast in order to highlight similarities and differences between the England-based and Northern Ireland-based forced labourers.


The results will be analysed by identifying dimension of relevant journeys. Composite life stories will be constructed by the research team. A report compiling the different life stories will be produced.

The research will be led by Prof. Carolyn Kagan at Manchester Metropolitan University and Dr Sylvia Sham of Wai Yin.