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26 Okt 2023

UK: Investigation finds Govt. did nothing despite knowledge of 'hundreds' of allegations of migrant farmworker abuse, incl. cos comments

In October, an investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and The Independent found inspectors heard hundreds of allegations of human rights abuse of seasonal migrant workers on UK farms, but nothing was done by the Home Office despite their knowledge of the abuse.

The investigation findings follow a five month freedom of information battle with the Home Office, and subsequent access to 19 farm inspection reports produced by the Home Office between 2021 and 2022. The names of the farms in the reports were redacted by the Home Office which reportedly said revealing the names “would likely discourage workers from these farms”.

The TBIJ and The Independent investigation alleges:

  • Nearly half of the 845 workers interviewed raised welfare concerns, including racism, wage theft, and threatening behaviour.
  • On most of the inspected farms, there were allegations of mistreatment or discrimination.
  • More than 80% of workers interviewed on the three most complained about farms raised an issue.
  • 12 out of 19 farms had workers who were not always paid for the hours worked, were off sick or travelled, or they faced deductions beyond the maximum legally permitted.

The rights violations mentioned in the reports include poor living conditions, threatening behaviour, a lack of access to medicines, a lack of food, a lack of complaint mechanisms, racism, and unlawful recruitment fees, with workers from six countries saying they had paid recruiters as much as £7,500 for UK jobs, among other issues.

TBIJ alleges the Home Office knew about the allegations, did nothing about them, and attempted to stop the information from being made public. The authors therefore allege the government could have breached its obligations to prevent forced labour under the European Convention of Human Rights.

None of the allegations raised in the inspections were investigated by the Home Office or scheme operators; according to a report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. No scheme operator lost its license or was sanctioned for labour rights abuse failures.

The report also includes allegations of migrant worker abuse at a Haygrove farm, one of the UK’s biggest fruit producers, including low wages amid a lack of work, being overcharged for flights, wage theft, threatening behaviour, a lack of access to water, and unreasonable working hours and leisure time. Haygrove responded to the journalist’s request for comment and rejected the allegations of wrongdoing.

The workers at Haygrove were also visited by Fruitful Jobs, contracted to provide HR to Haygrove, where they were allegedly told that if they continued to protest their working conditions, their visas would be revoked. Fruitful Jobs responded to the journalist’s request for comment.

Following the investigation, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration criticised the Home Office for failing to publish a promised review into the UK's seasonal worker scheme.