Shockingly, there are an estimated 40 million people trapped by modern slavery in the world today. The agriculture sector is deemed particularly high-risk and, according to the International Labour Organisation, this area of work has the fourth highest number of victims worldwide.
Modern slavery can involve many forms of abuse but typically it entails the coercion and manipulation of vulnerable people through deceitful promises of a better life or a way to support their families. And all too often, it’s hidden in plain sight.
“Slavery isn’t a distant nightmare — it’s happening right now in every town, city and rural area of the UK,” says Clare Mills, a community fundraiser for anti-slavery charity Unseen.
Exploitation in UK agriculture
British agriculture is dependent on more than 70,000 migrant workers, with 99% of its labour coming from the EU. The seasonal nature of their work can leave them vulnerable to labour exploitation. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) reports that many exploited agricultural workers within the UK are Romanian, followed by Bulgarian, Polish and Lithuanian nationals.
It’s vital that agriculture businesses look closely at their labour procurers, international suppliers, outsourcing, investments and everything else, to ensure there are no areas that could be profiting from modern slavery — indirectly or otherwise.
Businesses must also be vigilant about telltale signs of exploitation in workforces. For example, victims of modern slavery often don’t have access to the most basic personal possessions, so they may constantly be wearing the same unwashed, ill-fitting or torn clothing. Abusers tend to keep their victims close by and restrict their movements. Workers may not have access to their own documents or passports.
Protection through financial independence
It’s not uncommon for modern slavery victims to have their finances controlled by criminal gangmasters. Some don’t receive payslips, or their payslips don’t accurately reflect the number of hours worked. Agriculture businesses should ensure that working hours are tracked and, crucially, that workers’ wages are paid into an account in their own name.
Award-winning specialised payment solution Suits Me enables recruiters, employers and unions to open secure accounts for their employees, candidates and members within minutes, giving businesses peace of mind that employees’ wages are being transferred and accessed without interference.
“The financial services sector can play a vital role in trying to prevent workers being exploited,” says Frank Hanson, head of prevention and partnerships at the GLAA. “We therefore very much welcome the work undertaken by Suits Me to raise awareness of labour exploitation and modern slavery to their clients and customers and, most importantly, pointing them in the direction of who to contact to report their concerns.”
Standing against slavery
Modern slavery thrives on insufficient oversight — so businesses should never allow workplace quality, employee well-being or staff procurement procedures to go unchecked. It’s incredibly important that UK businesses adhere to the Modern Slavery Act and fulfil their reporting requirements.
By ensuring high labour standards within supply chains, and checking workers are fully cared for and supported, the agriculture industry can play its part in ending modern slavery for good
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