By Daniel Hunter
Leading organisations and industry bodies within UK food production, retail and horticulture have joined forces to tackle the scourge of modern day slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and other hidden migrant worker exploitation.
Forced labour and human trafficking are hidden crimes often carried out by organised criminal gangs. In 2012, 29 per cent of cases of labour exploitation reported to the UK Human Trafficking Centre occurred within the food processing and agricultural sectors.
The "Stronger Together" initiative launched yesterday (Thursday) is about equipping UK employers with the knowledge and resource to recognise the signs of exploitation and to tackle it in the food and agriculture industries. It was developed by the Association of Labour Providers (ALP), the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) and Migrant Help with sponsorship by five UK retailers: the Co-operative Food, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose.
As part of Stronger Together, employers and labour providers will be able to access a range of free resources to help them deter, identify and tackle worker exploitation. These materials, which include best practice guidance and a toolkit containing multi-language workplace posters and worker leaflets, will be available through the Stronger Together website (www.stronger2gether.org).
In addition to the online resources, there will also be a series of interactive workshops held across the UK to further help the food industry understand their responsibilities and the best practice associated with tackling hidden labour exploitation in the workplace. The aim is to engage over 1000 farms, food producers and labour providers who in turn will reach more than 100,000 workers.
David Camp, Director of the Association of Labour Providers, said: "The Stronger Together tools and workshops will enable us to engage with the industry and work together to tackle this evil within our society. Although we've set up this initiative to target hidden labour exploitation in the food and agriculture industries, we look forward to sharing the good practice developed with other industry sectors facing similar issues."
As stakeholders in the food supply chain learn how to identify (and report) the signs of abuse and exploitation, enforcement bodies like the Gangmasters Licensing Authority will have greater access to better quality intelligence. Paul Broadbent, GLA Chief Executive, said: "Stronger Together will help us to work more closely with industry to prevent exploitation by the early identification of the signs that a worker or workers are being abused so that the criminals can be exposed and dealt with by the GLA."
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), along with a number of other industry partners and organisations, such as Anti-Slavery International, the British Growers Association, Crimestoppers and the Food and Drink Federation are also supporting the Stronger Together initiative. Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium, said: "The Stronger Together project is a shining example of organisations across the UK food industry teaming up to tackle human trafficking and forced labour. UK retailers are committed to addressing the issue through joint working with the GLA, law enforcement agencies and farmers; there is no place for exploitation in our supply chains."
Robert McCrea, Chief Executive of Migrant Help, said: "Human Trafficking is a form of slavery and it is happening here in our local communities. It is everybody's responsibility to ensure that this abominable crime cannot continue to flourish, the traffickers are brought to justice and the victims supported to the highest standard possible. This is why we are stronger together."
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