Intimidation in food supply chain – GLA and Sainsbury’s crack down
16th April 2008
A GLA investigation supported by Sainsbury’s and Produce World has uncovered shocking abuse by a Cambridgeshire gangmaster who supplied workers to Allpress Farms.
The Licence of ELS recruitment Ltd based in Peterborough has been revoked with immediate effect, with Sainsbury’s and Produce World working at pace to fully support the work of the GLA and secure all of the workers continuing employment. Allpress Farms is a supplier of leeks to Produce World, who in turn supply Sainsbury’s.
A GLA led inspection involving Sainsbury’s and Produce World found:
• A worker has allegedly been assaulted by Mr Shamus Paul the Director of ELS Recruitment Ltd.
• Workers had been threatened and verbally abused by Mr Paul and ELS staff.
• On a regular basis hours were deducted from workers’ pay with no explanation. Workers were told if they complained they would be fired.
• Workers reported being frightened when the vans they travelled to work in were often overcrowded leaving some workers sitting on the floor whilst travelling at high speeds.
• Workers were forced to use company transport and paid at least £4.50 each a day for the privilege. Anybody who did not use this transport was threatened with ‘the sack’. One worker stated he had to pay for transport even if they were not working.
• Workers were told they would not be paid if they took holiday and there was no evidence that Statutory Sick Pay had ever been paid.
• Some workers were not given copies of their contracts. Contracts of other workers contained false details. Signatures of the workers appear to have been forged by the agency. At least one worker was fired for questioning these details.
• Although ELS was responsible for providing the workers with health and safety training there was no evidence that training was provided. One worker stated that the only training provided was “don’t lose your knife”.
• Some of the workers who questioned these practices or complained were fired. Joint action between the GLA and retailers has now begun following a meeting earlier this month to discuss ways to resolve exploitation issues in the food supply chain.
Currently all major supermarkets are involved and it is hoped a signed agreement aimed at helping the workers affected by exploitation and other best practice will be formally signed soon.
Paul Whitehouse, Chairman of the GLA said:
“The GLA welcomes the help provided by Sainsbury’s and Produce World through the inspection and by offering the workers new jobs. It is a great relief that the workers do not have to suffer the further stress of finding new work now we have shut down ELS Recruitment Ltd. The community impact risk of workers having no accommodation is also being actively managed.”
“ELS Recruitment Ltd controlled where some of the workers lived, if they worked, how they got to work and even if they got paid for working. Anybody who abuses this amount of control over the lives of others deserves to face the consequences.”
“This is exactly the type of abuse we were set up to stop, and we are determined to take action against it wherever we find it. Many of the workers were too scared to talk to us, but those who did made a real difference and allowed us to take swift action to end the suffering and abuse.”
Judith Batchelor, director of Sainsbury’s brand said:
“Sainsbury’s takes the welfare of workers and sourcing with integrity very seriously and this is the type of behaviour that both we and Produce World find totally unacceptable.”
“We expect each and every one of our suppliers and growers to conform to our Code of Conduct for Socially Responsible Sourcing, which clearly sets out the standards we demand – including worker health and safety, freedom of employment, hours of work and wages.”
More than 1,100 gangmasters are now licensed to operate legally in the UK and the GLA has uncovered worker exploitation and illegal activity that led to the revocation of 53 licences.
Notes to editors
1. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority was set up to curb the exploitation of workers in the agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packaging industries. It was set up following the death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004. The majority of workers involved in these industries come from countries such as: Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, India Pakistan and Portugal.
2. There are currently 1188 gangmasters licensed by the GLA
3. A gangmaster is an individual or business who:
• supplies labour to agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and food processing and packaging
• uses labour to provide a service in the regulated sector, eg harvesting or gathering agricultural produce
• uses labour to gather shellfish.
To be granted a GLA licence all businesses must meet the GLA licensing standards and the principle authority of the business must meet ‘Fit or Proper’ person criteria. Cross government checks are made on all licence applications.
4. It has been an offence to supply labour to the GLA regulated sectors since 1 October 2006, with the maximum penalty being ten years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
5. All licences that are revoked have the right of appeal including licences revoked with immediate effect.
6. Paul Whitehouse, Chairman of the GLA is available for interview.
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