Food firm flags potential labour abuse

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

The GLAA was alerted by a tip off from a food processing company
The GLAA was alerted by a tip off from a food processing company

Related tags: Supply chain

A tip-off by a food processing company has safeguarded 17 people believed to be potential victims of modern slavery and labour exploitation, according to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).

GLAA officers said they were supported by Suffolk Police in conducting an urgent safeguarding operation at a house in Haverhill, Suffolk on Thursday, 16 July. 

According to the GLAA the food processor, which has not been named, became suspicious after conducting their own due diligence checks. 

Concerns were raised that a potential woman victim had been prevented from leaving the house she was staying in, for fear that she was about to share her experiences with law enforcement.

Exploitation

A total of 17 potential victims of labour exploitation, including a man who has decided to return to Romania, have been identified so far by the GLAA as part of this single investigation.

GLAA senior investigating officer Jennifer Baines said: “We became aware of some potential issues after a food processing company spotted some of the signs of exploitation through their due diligence checks and rightly raised the alarm.

Reporting suspicions 

“We all have a responsibility to eradicate labour exploitation from communities. This means reporting your suspicions to us and not simply turning a blind eye and accepting that this kind of criminal behaviour exists in society.” 

Baines added that its main priority as an organisation is to work in partnership to protect vulnerable workers. 

“This is exactly what we have done here and now our focus can shift to carrying out a full investigation into these serious allegations,”​ she said. 

"This investigation has also emphasised how important it is for companies to have thorough safeguarding checks in place, to be fully aware of the signs of exploitation, and to report their concerns to us so we can take swift and decisive action to end any abuse taking place."

Investigations are ongoing. 

Anyone who suspects that someone is a victim of forced or compulsory labour should call the GLAA’s intelligence team on 0800 4320804 or email intelligence@gla.gov.uk 

The GLAA recently launched a temporary labour scheme ​amid the coronavirus pandemic. This was a temporary licensing scheme for up to three months to ensure food supply was able to run as smoothly as possible after panic buying set in before and during lockdown.

Earlier this year two men who acted as unlicensed Gangmasters​ were fined following an investigation by the GLAA. 

Spot the Signs 

The GLAA offers advice and produces a leaflet ​to help people 'spot the signs' of labour exploitation.

The GLAA said this can include restrictive freedoms such as not being in possession of their passports, being unable to leave their work environment or being unable to communicate freely with others. Victims may also be unfamiliar with the local language, act as if they were instructed by someone else and never leave the workplace without their employer. 

Related topics: Legal

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