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25 Jan 2022

Beatriz Ramalho da Silva & Corinne Redfern, The Guardian

Portugal: Migrant berry pickers supplying UK supermarkets report exploitative working conditions incl. underpayment of wages, overtime & poor health & safety

See all tags Allegations

"Workers paid less than minimum wage to pick berries allegedly sold in UK supermarkets", 25 January 2022

Farm workers in Portugal appear to have been working illegally long hours picking berries destined for Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose for less than the minimum wage, according to a Guardian investigation.

Speaking anonymously...workers claimed the hours listed on their payslips were often fewer than the hours they had actually worked.

The workers, mostly from south Asia, are the backbone of Portugal’s £200m berry industry, which employs upwards of 10,000 migrants...

Evidence seen by the Guardian suggests that workers who were either underpaid or worked more than the maximum overtime limit were employed by at least three farms which supply their berries to European supermarkets through...Driscoll’s...

Lusomorango, a Portuguese organisation of soft fruit producers, claimed there was the possibility that workers had since been repaid retroactively...

The Guardian also saw seven payslips that appear to show people working beyond the maximum amount of overtime allowed on farms that supply Driscoll’s...

Another worker on a farm that supplies Driscoll’s claimed his employers fired him...after he refused to work when he had booked time off. Afterwards, he said he was denied a document that would have allowed him to claim unemployment benefits.

Management at one of the farms that appeared to be underpaying workers said that their berries end up on shelves in Waitrose, M&S and Tesco.

Lusomorango said its berry growers, which include at least two of the farms named as underpaying, or where workers claimed to have done more overtime than allowed, supply UK supermarkets.

Driscoll’s berries are marketed to UK supermarkets by Berry Gardens.

The long hours and low wages seen in payslips would appear to breach the worker welfare standards of Tesco, M&S and Waitrose, and their supplier Driscoll’s...

Farmworkers interviewed by the Guardian also raised concerns about on-farm health and safety.

Three supervisors claimed they had not received first aid training and did not know how to use the first aid boxes on site...

Two workers on farms supplying Driscoll’s claimed they required hospitalisation after severe allergic reactions to bee stings, yet both allegedly continue to work close to dozens of hives...

Berry Gardens, M&S, Tesco and Waitrose said they were urgently investigating the allegations and would take any action required to ensure their standards on worker welfare were met.

A spokesperson for Driscoll’s said its growers were required to abide by local laws and standards, including on wages, overtime and worksite health and safety. They said a “detailed set of requirements is included in the appendix of the grower’s contract, which specifically addresses the requirements for trained staff, first aid kits and other related topics”.

“If any of our independent growers’ practices conflict with our standards or the local legal framework, Driscoll’s defines corrective actions that, in severe cases of noncompliance, can lead to a termination of the relationship with Driscoll’s.”

The spokesperson said all its growers in Odemira would face a more thorough audit at the start of this year’s season. And that it was working with local and national authorities, government, immigration NGOs and grower associations to provide “safe communication channels to prevent and denounce abuse and harassment”.

Lusomorango said it condemns any acts contrary to those defined in its code of conduct and the law and that it would continue, through its own and external audit mechanisms, to monitor the activity of its producers and would accompany this with training, awareness and information actions in order to prevent and correct any situations that did not in comply.