Retailers unite against worker exploitation

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Britain’s major retailers have agreed to work closely with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) to stamp out the widespread problem of migrant...

Britain’s major retailers have agreed to work closely with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) to stamp out the widespread problem of migrant and agency worker exploitation.

The issue was identified in a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) inquiry within the meat industry. The agreement on a Protocol follows extensive consultations between the GLA and retailers and other parts of the supply chain over the past two years.
The Protocol sets out how the GLA will work with the industry to make sure proper standards are in place. It includes how intelligence should be reported to the GLA, how information will be shared between all parties and what should happen after a GLA operation to make sure workers are protected.
Since publication of the inquiry’s report, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has sought a meeting with the EHRC to discuss the issues around recruitment and employment in the meat and poultry processing sector.

Migrant workers in the workforce

BMPA director Stephen Rossides said: “The instances of illegal, unethical, unfair and degrading practices that the report has found in some parts of the industry are completely unacceptable in a modern food industry and in our society.” According to the EHRC, one-third of the permanent workforce and over two-thirds of agency workers in the industry are migrant workers.
Asda, Co-operative Food, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose have all signed up to the new Protocol. Suppliers’ involvement was led by the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).
GLA chairman Paul Whitehouse said: “Much has been achieved in recent years in protecting workers from abuse in the UK food industry. But problems still exist. The EHRC’s report into the meat industry highlights some of the challenges that remain. This Protocol shows that everybody in the industry is determined to make sure workers are treated fairly and legitimate businesses are not undercut by rogues.”
FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney added: “The FPC welcomes the introduction of this Protocol, which recognises the importance of equal partnership between retailers and their suppliers to maximise the protection of vulnerable workers.”
Philip Hudson, chief horticultural adviser at the NFU, said: “The NFU is delighted to be able to support this Protocol, which recognises the importance of the GLA working with retailers and suppliers in the shared mission of preventing the abuse of workers.”
Recommendations to reduce exploitation
As a result of the inquiry, the EHRC has made a number of recommendations. They include supermarkets improving their auditing of suppliers; processors and agencies improving recruitment practices, working environments and the ability of workers to raise issues of concern; and for the government to provide sufficient resources for the GLA to help safeguard the welfare and interests of workers.
The EHRC will review action taken over the next 12 months by supermarkets, processing firms and recruitment agencies, and will consider taking enforcement action if necessary.

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