Rise in slavery on farms and in food industry

The number of modern slavery cases rose by 35% from 2016-2017 according to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority - with agriculture and food industry amongst the worst sectors.

Carrot pickers. Photo credit: Sustain

Carrot pickers. Photo credit: Sustain

A new report by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority describes the UK as being one of the main destinations of trafficked workers in Europe.

In agriculture, some workers - mainly from Romania and Bulgaria - are putting in 15 hour days at less than minimum wage and living in “horrific” conditions.

There are reports of illegal and under-age workers in the food industry. The sector has much unstructured shift work and there are reports of supervisors promising jobs and overtime in return for bribes and sexual favours.

Vicki Hird, Sustain’s Farming Campaign Coordinator said:

“This report makes for grim reading and some parts of the food system are clearly broken when it comes to protecting workers. The deep cracks in both employment relationships, changes in how food is supplied, and the lack of enforcement of regulations are clearly leading to huge exploitation. Agriculture workers are getting sporadic pay and at different rates, and there is too much evidence of criminality and slavery in food processing. The report shows that the growth of complex supply chains - where drive for costs savings lead to abuse – are often to blame. That takes deep rooted changes to how we manage and value the whole food chain alongside changes in enforcement and monitoring of existing rules.”

Despite there being approximately 400 active modern slavery investigations being conducted across England and Wales as at October 2017, there have been few prosecutions specifically for these offences. 

You can read the full report and a wider summary on non-compliance with labour regulations and strategies to tackle them from the enforcement agencies.

Sustain campaigns for food and farming policy which benefits the environment, health, animals and farm workers.

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