Rise of criminal gangmasters in supply chains 'akin to horse meat crisis'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
4 December 2014

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has warned it is seeing an increasing number of criminals “infiltrating” supply chains and the problem is “akin to the horse meat crisis”.

Paul Broadbent, chief executive of the GLA which licenses labour providers in the fresh produces sector, told a Westminster Legal Policy Forum on modern slavery in London there were 4.8 million people in the UK that “may be susceptible to labour exploitation”.

“The vast majority of labour providers are absolutely scrupulous about the way they run their business. However, there’s a minority that aren’t,” he said. “They make lots of money by knocking down margins.”

He said in legitimate labour supply chains criminals establish themselves as the “interpreter” for a group of workers, keeping their passports “safe”, accepting their pay into a single bank account and being the single point of contact via a mobile phone number.

“That’s what we’re seeing more and more: a criminal infiltrating the supply chain. It’s akin to the horse meat crisis,” said Broadbent.

“There are 4.8 million people on the minimum wage that may be susceptible to labour exploitation.”

Broadbent said the GLA wanted to expand its role by offering training and having a “footprint” in the countries firms source from. “We can’t arrest our way out of this situation,” he said.

Matt Crossman, in charge of ethical research and corporate engagement at Rathbone Greenbank Investments, said the transparency clause in the Modern Slavery Bill currently going through Parliament was a positive step.

“To require companies to report on what they are doing to minimise modern slavery in their supply chain would encourage them to go looking for it,” he said.

Crossman said currently the task of addressing slavery had been “outsourced” to firms and this had created an “uneven playing field”. “This has created a real burden on some companies but for others there’s nothing at all,” he said. “The company doing the right thing can be seen as at a competitive disadvantage”.

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