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Charity & police break up UK's largest modern slavery ring; victims worked in farms allegedly supplying UK retailers & supermarkets

In July 2019, the largest-ever modern slavery ring uncovered in the UK has been broken up following a three-year investigation into its activities. Investigators found some of its 400 victims worked for as little as 50p a day, working on farms, rubbish recycling centres and poultry factories. Gang members were convicted of modern slavery offences and money laundering on 5 July 2019.

According to an investigation by the Sunday Times [restricted access], UK supermarkets including Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda were supplied by farms where men and women controlled by the gang worked. 

The supermarket chains and companies involved said they did not know the workers were being exploited, and several said they only became aware of the mistreatment after being contacted by journalists. The British Retail Consortium issued a statement on behalf of all retailers affected by the slavery investigation which is available in the media articles below, along with statements by the companies.

In a statement published on 29 July 2019, Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner said companies must use buying power to root out slavery. The statement is also available below.

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Article
29 July 2019

Companies must use buying power to root out slavery, says UK official

Author: Sonia Elks, Reuters

Companies that find their products are being made using slave labor should work with suppliers to stop the abuse rather than focusing on protecting their reputations, Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner said on Monday. 

Sara Thornton said many people used in forced labor were highly vulnerable and could be left with “absolutely nothing” if major firms simply chose to walk away from abusive suppliers...

“It isn’t about cutting off the supplier, it’s working with them to improve matters.” 

She spoke out after major supermarkets including Tesco, Asda and Marks and Spencer faced criticism this month for reportedly stocking vegetables supplied by a slavery ring that paid workers as little as 20 pounds ($25) per week...

Although many major firms might be afraid of the reputational risk that comes with admitting they have used slavery-supplied goods, Thornton argued they should use their buying power to help create positive change. 

However, she urged caution on calls to sanction companies that flout a law requiring large firms to produce an annual statement outlining the actions they have taken to avoid slavery in their operations. 

She said stronger civil penalties might be introduced but “criminal sanctions are not appropriate at this stage”...

Read the full post here

Article
8 July 2019

Britain’s biggest slavery gang allegedly 'supplied Tesco, Asda and M&S with fresh vegetables'

Author: George Arbuthnott & Jordan Coussins, BirminghamLive

An evil slavery gang which forced workers to live in squalid conditions reportedly supplied the nation’s biggest supermarkets with freshly picked groceries.

Some of the biggest names in the industry - including Tesco, Asda, Waitrose, Sainsbury and M&S - all bought vegetables from firms that hired vulnerable men and women brought into the UK and controlled by the ruthless gang.

The huge gang collected around 400 drug addicts and alcoholics in Poland with the promise of good money when they got to England.

But they were paid just 50p a day as the majority of their earnings from hard manual labour on farms, in factories and recycling centres were siphoned off, an investigation by the Sunday Times reported. 

All the supermarket chains and other companies involved said they did not know the workers were being exploited. The Sunday Times said several became aware of the mistreatment only when it contacted them.

There is no suggestion the firms were actively complicit... 

Read the full post here

Article
7 July 2019

Modern slaves entrapped by gang convicted last week allegedly forced to work supplying UK supermarkets

Author: Daily Mail Online

Sandfields Farms is part of G's, a multinational produce company growing onions, celery, mushrooms and radishes. Its customers include Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's as well as Tesco and Asda.

At least 25 other victims were compelled to make garden sheds and fences for a Kidderminster firm which supplied major retailers such as Homebase, Argos and Wickes.

All the supermarket chains and other companies involved say they did not know the workers were being exploited. Several said they only became aware of the mistreatment after being contacted by journalists. 

Homebase, Travis Perkins and Wickes told the Sunday Times they have now launched investigations. There is no suggestion the firms were actively complicit...

A spokesman for Tesco said: 'We have a zero tolerance approach to exploitation in our supply chain and have stringent standards to protect human rights and prevent exploitation. All our UK suppliers are required to undergo training to spot the signs of modern slavery and prevent it occurring and audit their labour providers to ensure they are GLAA compliant. Our supplier has notified us of this investigation.' 

Asda referred the Daily Mail to the British Retail Consortium, who issued a statement on behalf of retailers affected by the slavery investigation.

Helen Dickinson, the BRC's chief executive, said: 'The BRC and our members believe that any form of human trafficking or labour exploitation is completely unacceptable. Retailers have a protocol in place aimed at supporting victims and enabling perpetrators to be brought to justice.

'Retailers are leading efforts to tackle labour exploitation and are careful to work with suppliers who provide proper working conditions for their workers. 

'However, this issue demonstrates that much more needs to be done, which is why we continue to call on the Government to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act and for greater enforcement to prevent exploitation now and in the future.' ...

Derek Wilkinson, Managing Director at Sandfields Farm, said the firm had 'invested heavily' in 'ethical awareness training and monitoring', adding: 'We are committed to working to the highest ethical standards and only work with fully accredited labour providers who work to the highest industry standards. 

All our suppliers are regularly audited to ensure their systems comply with UK law, ethical guidelines and the licensing standards of the GLAA (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority). We will thoroughly investigate any alleged potential breach of these exacting standards and will cooperate fully with the relevant authorities as appropriate.' 

He said the firm operates an anonymous hotline to report suspected abuse or exploitation of staff, and line leaders are trained to spot signs of exploitation...

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Article
5 July 2019

Charity & police break up UK's largest modern slavery ring

Author: Ben Quinn, The Guardian

The largest-ever modern slavery ring uncovered in the UK has been broken up after a three-year investigation into its activities. Some of its 400 victims worked for as little as 50p a day.

Their labour earned millions for members of a criminal gang... Gang members were jailed on Friday.

The gang tricked and then trafficked vulnerable men and women... to Britain with the promise of gainful employment...

Working on farms, rubbish recycling centres and poultry factories in the Midlands, they were made to live in cramped, rat-infested accommodation and reduced to going to soup kitchens and food banks to get enough to eat... Brutality was commonplace...

Many of the survivors who were supported by the charity are now in employment...

 

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