A new study commissioned by The Left in the European Parliament sets out how subcontracting has become the business model for exploiting workers in the EU. Numerous scandals – from systemic exploitation during the World Cup in Qatar to human trafficking at Borealis chemicals operation in Belgium, reveal how complex webs of tangled contracts allow big companies to conceal their role and evade liability when accusations of exploitation and abuse surface. 

“Subcontracting: Exploitation by design. Tackling the business model for social dumping” by Silvia Borelli of the University of Ferrara, sets out the various ways that subcontracting undermines labour laws in the EU and normalises worker exploitation and social dumping so that companies can increase their profits. In this environment, rogue employers are able to separate power and profits from risk and responsibility – leading to a race to the bottom in terms of workers’ rights.

The study concludes that not only illegal but also legal subcontracting promotes this vicious cycle and calls for EU action to fight exploitation in the contracting chain.