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Exploitation of Seasonal Workers and Human Trafficking

6 July 2021

Shockingly labour exploitation is the second most common form of modern slavery in the UK after coerced criminality, being most prevalent in the construction, agriculture, and car wash sectors.

A report produced in 2021 by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) and Fife Migrants Forum assessed the risk of human trafficking for forced labour under the UK Seasonal Workers Pilot (SWP).  The report confirmed that there was a serious risk that forced labour could take place under the SWP unless action was taken.

While the report highlighted that the main risk areas of worker exploitation are degrading living conditions, workers being charged for weather protective clothing and a lack of reporting channels for seasonal workers within the workplace (please see links to the other articles in this series: A Fair Work Nation, Seasonal Workforce: Terms and Conditions – A Practical Guide for Workers and their Employees and Our Seasonal Workforce: Health and Safety and Worker Welfare) every year, vulnerable and migrant seasonal workers are targeted and exploited by highly organised criminal gangs, and often like other types of exploitation and modern slavery, to the untrained eye, it can go unnoticed.


Signs of Worker Exploitation and Human Trafficking

There are certain signs that can indicate trafficking and it is important that everybody involved with seasonal workers is aware of what to look for.  Common indicators of trafficking and exploitation are if workers are rarely allowed to travel on their own, are always dropped off and picked up, appear to be restricted in where they can go out with work and/or appear to be unduly influenced by another worker.  Similarly, if workers appear to have very few personal possessions and wear the same clothes all the time, potentially clothes not suitable for work, then this can be a sign that workers are being controlled both from a movement and a financial perspective.  Victims of trafficking are likely to avoid eye contact, appear hesitant or even frightened to talk to strangers for a number of reasons including fear of losing their job or fear of violence.  They often fear officials and law enforcers.  While this list is not exhaustive; it is an indication of some of the key signs of human trafficking of workers.


What help is available to anyone affected by human trafficking

The Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI) have a dedicated helpline, 0300 111 4160, for seasonal workers with translators are available if required.  Employers can also contact the RSABI for help and guidance if they have concerns with regards staff supplied to them by an agency.   RSABI can provide help to farmers/growers with regarding to notifying the appropriate authorities so that the correct support can be put in place where trafficking is suspected.

The Farm Work Welfare App launched by the Clewer Initiative  is available to download from Google Play and the Apple Store.  It provides farmers and growers with information, signposting and tools to help avoid criminal organisations and promote worker welfare.  It provides information on licensed labour providers, document verification and the rights of workers such as freedom of movement and right to work.  The App has been designed to raise awareness about modern slavery and how to spot potential cases of exploitation.  Farmers/Growers should encourage their seasonal/migrant workers to download the App to help them understand their rights and to know what to do if they are being exploited. The app is available in 8 languages (Albanian, Bulgarian, English, Lithuanian, Romanian, Polish, Chinese (Mandarin) and Vietnamese).

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