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A task force set up by British supermarkets to tackle the exploitation of farm workers has failed to complete an audit months after the investigation was due, leaving vulnerable migrants at risk.
Tesco, J Sainsbury, Waitrose and other major UK food retailers announced earlier this year They were supporting an independent assessment of a UK-based recruitment firm licensed to hire temporary farm workers from abroad after investors called for it to rule out widely reported cases of exploitation.
However, according to three people close to the task force, only one of the six licensed recruitment agencies has started an independent audit.
“Failure of retailers . . . get it done. [efforts] Exercise human rights due diligence [recruiters] It puts vulnerable seasonal workers at increased risk,” said Andy Hall, an independent workers’ rights activist who meets regularly with the Task Force.
In a letter to suppliers in February, the supermarket said evaluations “will take place in April or early May” ahead of the summer season when many foreign workers arrive. England harvesting fruit.
The aim was to assess the hiring process of UK and overseas agents, rather than the situation on the farm itself.
The retailers said they expected “growth companies in our supply chain to only use recruiters who have undergone self-assessments and independent audits, including overseas surveys of hiring practices and surveys of workers upon arrival in the UK.”
The initiative comes after reports that many workers are paying exorbitant fees to agents in their home countries to come to the UK and are continuing to work to pay off their debts. Activists say migrant workers are also being held in unsafe conditions and subjected to abuse by employers, including threats of deportation.
Britain’s departure from the European Union and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, home to the largest number of seasonal workers, have forced the UK to look further afield to find temporary workers to harvest the fruits and vegetables that are sold in supermarkets each season.
But campaigners warn workers in Central and East Asia and elsewhere who are less familiar with British employment standards are routinely charged thousands of pounds worth of fees by governments. unscrupulous employment agent in their home country.
In December, investors with assets of £800bn, including shareholders of major supermarkets, Asking Retailers to Secure Compensation for Employees They are estimated to have spent millions of dollars in total to secure jobs, an act that is banned in the UK.
Critics warn that foreign workers will be at risk of being exploited again if action is not taken.
“If companies have promised to keep workers from paying hiring costs, how is it possible that they haven’t kept those promises?” said a person familiar with the task force’s activities. They added that the audit “will help assess the processes recruiters have in place to protect workers.”
The UK Retail Consortium, which represents supermarkets, said it expected recruiters to participate in audits “in a timely manner”.
Governments “need to take action to address systemic challenges in designing, operating and enforcing systems.” [seasonal worker scheme]’ added.
The industry-backed task force, which includes food retailers, non-governmental organizations and others, said it was working “toward a common goal of protecting the rights of migrant workers”, including “improving due diligence during recruitment”.
But it added that the initiative “does not replace independent oversight, nor was it established to replace the roles and responsibilities of governments and statutory bodies.”
The interior ministry said it was “cracking down on poor working conditions and exploitation.”
He added, “We will always take decisive action when we believe that abuse is taking place or if we believe that the conditions of the route have not been met.”
https://www.ft.com/content/edf9ef81-e0da-4d95-a3fa-709d42d8654c Farm Recruiter Audit Stalled, Endangering Vulnerable UK Migrant Workers