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10 Mar 2023

Financial Times

UK supermarkets form task force to address risk of worker exploitation in their supply chains

"UK supermarkets to fund audits on farms to prevent worker exploitation", 10 March 2023

The UK’s leading supermarkets have formed a task force that will fund independent audits on British farms after investors called on food retailers to eliminate the risk of worker exploitation in their supply chains.

The move from grocers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Ocado and Waitrose, follows widespread reports that Asian agricultural workers had come to the UK after paying exorbitant fees to hiring agencies in their home countries, leaving them effectively working to pay off debts.

The grocers told suppliers last week that they will fund audits of the UK-based recruitment companies licensed to hire seasonal labourers, which will involve surveys of workers on farms, according to a letter seen by the Financial Times.

Stronger Together, the ethical recruitment group leading the audit process, confirmed that the aim is to assess the recruitment process by UK agencies and their counterparts abroad, rather than conditions on the farms themselves.

The supermarkets, which also include Aldi, Co-op, Asda and Morrisons, said in their letter that “the task force is working to develop and implement tangible actions to help mitigate risks of worker exploitation” and “to improve worker welfare”...

The efforts by the supermarkets “cannot and shouldn’t replace the government’s role”, said Andy Hall, an independent activist who has campaigned on issues around the seasonal worker scheme...

He added, however, that his focus was “the remediation [of former workers]”.

Sophie De Salis, sustainability policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium, which represents the supermarkets, said that retailers are “committed to upholding high standards of welfare for all people who work in their supply chains”.

But she said that supermarkets needed an intervention from the government and licensed recruiters to address the “systemic challenges within the design, operation and enforcement of the seasonal worker scheme” and to “better protect workers vulnerable to illicit recruitment fees”.

A government spokesperson said that the welfare of workers “is always of paramount importance for us”...

Part of the following timelines

UK: Nepali & Indonesian migrant seasonal workers in the agricultural sector subject to exploitative working conditions, according to various reports

UK: Supermarket taskforce established to address seasonal worker exploitation faces criticism as civil society groups step back & promised audits are delayed