The UK government’s labour market tsar has called for large businesses to be held jointly responsible for abuses in their supply chains.
The director for labour market enforcement, Sir David Metcalf, has said leading brands need to be held responsible, along with suppliers, for non-compliance in their supply chains.
He added that while this would initially be done in private, he proposed brands and suppliers that fail to correct non-compliance should be named and shamed.
These proposals are part of a series of recommendations Metcalf made to government today on preventing the exploitation of the UK’s lowest paid workers, in his first full report since taking up the role in 2017.
Some of his other recommendations include:
- Higher financial penalties and more prosecutions of employers that exploit workers
- The enforcement of holiday pay and mandatory pay slips for all workers
- The Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS) to be given more resources and an extended remit
- A pilot scheme to test the licensing of high risk businesses, including car washes and nail bars
Metcalf said: “This strategy sets out how we can toughen up enforcement activity to protect vulnerable workers and ensure that good, compliant firms are not undercut by unscrupulous competitors.
“It’s important the government has the necessary powers to crack down on bad bosses who exploit and steal from their workers – that includes bigger penalties to put employers off breaking the law.”
The government said it would respond to the report in full later this year.
Metcalf is the first to fill the position of director for labour market enforcement, a role that sets the priorities for the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), EAS and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage enforcement team.
Separately, a report released by the GLAA has said construction, warehousing and distribution and manufacturing were among the worse sectors in the UK for modern slavery.
The report marks a year since GLAA – previously known as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) – was rebranded and given additional powers. In that time, the authority said it has made 107 arrests, identified 1,335 abused workers, identified a total of £381,000 of withheld wages and holiday pay and recovered £94,000 for workers.
The report said there were a number of key themes in the ways workers were exploited. Foreign workers are often trafficked through overseas agencies – often under false pretences about the work they will be doing – are not provided with contracts in their language, are made to work excessive hours and have fees including rent and transport deducted directly from wages.
It also said intimidation and coercion, including the use of violence, was reported in most sectors, and that debt bondage – where the victim is forced to borrow money to pay for a job that they will never be able to pay off – was increasingly being used.
Construction was identified as one of the highest risk sectors as its “convoluted supply chains” made identifying exploitation and illegal practices challenging. GLAA said it believed there to be gangmasters that operate across Europe to provide labour where necessary and that in some cases workers are paid as little as £5 a day, while some are not paid at all.
For some sectors, including agriculture and food processing, the high demand for contracted labour made them particularly high risk for modern slavery, the report said. The agricultural sector “relies heavily” on gangmasters and unlicensed gangmasters often providing “an option where there are difficulties in fulfilling contracts”. In the UK individuals can be charged up to £50 a season for work and the GLAA said it believed there was “an element of competition” between businesses and criminal gangs in the sector.
In the food processing sector, GLAA said criminal groups are reportedly trafficking individuals into the UK to supply labour to the industry. It said there was information that “specifically states” licensed labour providers were losing contracts because they were being undercut by unlicensed providers.
GLAA said in the 12 months to March 2017, police had recorded 2,255 modern slavery offenses, but added this was far lower than the tens of thousands of offences GLAA estimates are taking place.
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