Chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka says his Oompa Loompas – migrant workers whose exact geographical origin is opaque – are “real people”. Yet his laissez-faire attitude to their health and safety, and their apparent long hours of back-breaking work, tell a very different story.
Sue Tumelty, founder of nationwide consultancy The HR Dept, believes the Oompa Loompas’ origins bear further investigation. Wonka claims to have smuggled the diminutive labourers into the country – which suggests they have not been subject to the requisite Right to Work checks – and is proud to boast they take no holiday, clearly contravening employment law.
What’s more, their devotion to their tyrannical boss and apparent cheeriness suggests they may be displaying symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. “It has echoes of domestic and sexual abuse, in human trafficking and political oppression,” says Tumelty, suggesting HR may wish to audit worker wellbeing as a first step to avoiding tribunal claims.
The company also needs to urgently address issues relating to employee pay, which appears to be non-existent – a particular concern if the Oompa Loompas’ ethnic background could constitute a protected characteristic. “Modern day slavery is not the way to manage any workforce,” says Tumelty. “A proper people strategy, where employees are loyal because they feel valued and rewarded for their work, is the way to go.”