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30 Apr 2024

Grace Duncan, The Grocer

Growers brace for up to £90m in additional seasonal workers costs in UK in move towards internationally compliant zero cost responsible recruitment model for vulnerable migrant workers

Growers have expressed concern over the continuing lack of clarity regarding new rules that would require them to pay additional costs for seasonal labour, including travel.

The new proposed rules from the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) will require farming and growing businesses to pay for the recruitment and transportation fees of the seasonal workers they employ. Sedex is a standard that is widely backed by all major UK supermarkets, who demand growers are signed up to the scheme before their products are listed.

The proposals, which are expected to come into force this summer, could cost the industry up to £90m a year, according to some estimates, as well as posing significant logistical challenges for the entire sector...

One source told The Grocer there had been a lot of confusion because “the standard itself is not very clearly written” about what the costs would include. It is currently unclear whether growers may also be required to cover illegal agency fees often incurred by workers in their home countries.

“If there’s a requirement, the buyer will ultimately dictate what happens and it could be that they dictated in a way which puts all of the cost all of the pressure on a supplier or potentially removes that supplier from their supply base,” he said.

There are hopes it will become clearer when Sedex publishes its guidance for auditors on how to audit the new standard...

The source explained that it was likely that the retailers would not be enforcing this element of the standard. However, the retailers could still enforce it at a later date, which could put suppliers at risk as “growers will effectively have a non-conformance against the standard”.

There are concerns that retailers could use this non-conformance as the reason to delist suppliers unfairly...

The Grocer approached Sedex for additional comment.