Blog: UK food industry in spotlight over migrant workers

Michelle Russell | 15 May 2012

UK food manufacturers were today (15 May) in the spotlight over claims of "exploitation and poor working conditions" facing migrant workers.

A report from campaigners at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this morning (15 May) made a series of allegations of forced labour and exploitation after conducting interviews with migrant workers in the food industry across England and Scotland.

The report claimed workers were "threatened and bullied" and "racist or sexist language was sometimes used in the workplace, underpinning a climate of fear".

In addition, the report said some employers used "fear of dismissal" to ensure that workers remained "compliant and deferential".

The report added the "intensity of work in the food industry, driven by economic pressures throughout the supply chain", had contributed to these practices.

"In food production, conditions are shaped by the competitive pressures that large suppliers and their customers (retailers) place on employers. In minority ethnic catering, conditions are shaped by intense competition among outlets and cultural business practices. These conditions explain why low-paid, insecure, sometimes exploitative employment exists," the report noted.

Reacting to the report, the UK's Food and Drink Federation, the industry association said it takes the treatment of its workers "very seriously".

"The report seems to relate mainly to the fresh produce part of the food supply chain and the hospitality sector rather than food manufacturing but we recognise our responsibility to support fair treatment throughout the supply chain and acknowledge problems where they exist," FDF director of competitiveness Angela Coleshill said.

Coleshill was recently appointed to the board of the Gangmaster's Licensing Authority, which is responsible for safeguarding the rights of workers within the industry.

"As a trade association representing around 400 companies, we work closely with our members to ensure that they are made aware of the latest legislation aimed at ensuring fair treatment of employees," she said.

Click here to view the full report.


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