18 December 2007 | Andy Allen
Relations between supermarket suppliers and their labour providers have again come under scrutiny following an investigation by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
The GLA investigation of the status of workers supplied to Simms & Woods, of Wyre Piddle, Worcestershire uncovered what the GLA termed "exploitation and illegal practices." Investigators accompanied by police officers found a minibus used to transport workers was uninsured and untaxed, with only a single usable door.
They also found a worker packaging spring onions for major supermarkets with a cut finger wrapped in clingfilm.
Examination of the firm's financial records also revealed workers appeared to have been underpaid. While some workers were believed to have worked for up to 70 hours per week, their payslips listed them as having worked for 39 hours, the GLA said.
The raid took place as part of Operation Scorpion, aimed at protecting vulnerable workers.
A GLA spokesman said the agency would now decide what action to take. A spokesman from Simms & Woods said it had immediately suspended the use of one of its labour providers for health and safety infringements following the probe.
"The company is working with the GLA in their investigation into three regional labour providers, of which Simms & Woods is a customer," said a GLA spokesman. "Simms & Woods only uses GLA licensed labour providers and has been fully co-operative with the GLA throughout their investigation."
The company added that it took ethical trading very seriously and had commissioned an independent ethical trading audit in August 2007, which it said had only raised a few minor action points.