Kent's fresh produce industry has received a clean bill of health following monitoring of working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic
Officers from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and Kent Police’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit visited nine businesses incorporating more than 20 sites in the county over the last three weeks to conduct welfare and visibility checks.Some 300 agricultural workers were approached to ensure that their rights in the workplace are being upheld.
Overall, approximately 1,000 workers were observed within their working environments which included fruit-picking farms, vegetable producers, vineyards and packing factories.
Workers spoken to were predominantly eastern European, with some British nationals also engaged with. No modern slavery or labour exploitation offences were identified and all workers said that they were happy with their conditions.
Over recent months, the GLAA has written to all agricultural labour sites in the south of England to ensure that they are receiving support and treating their workers fairly during the coronavirus crisis.
The GLAA said it will continue to visit farms to check on workers’ welfare and provide guidance to the industry as it continues to respond to the pandemic.
GLAA senior investigating officer Jennifer Baines said: “It is crucial during these challenging times that workers are not exploited and businesses are able to navigate their way through the new working procedures they have implemented in response to the crisis.
“We will continue our visibility campaign over the summer months to provide ongoing support to the agricultural sector alongside our day-to-day business of protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation.”
Detective sergeant Stacey Chapman of Kent Police’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking team said: 'Victims of modern slavery and human trafficking offences are often made to work long hours for very little reward, brought to this country on the promise of a better life but forced to endure terrible living conditions and threatened with violence or deportation if they dare to challenge those responsible.
'The agricultural industry is one that can be prone to abuse by human traffickers, which is why operations of the kind carried out over the last three weeks are so important. Although the vast majority of organisations in Kent employ reputable firms to ensure their workers are well looked after, we do not take anything for granted and are always keen to demonstrate that we are here for those workers if they need us.
'Tackling this type of offending is a priority for police forces up and down the country, and we encourage anyone who suspects it may be happening in their town or village to contact us.
'Human trafficking and modern slavery have no place in a civilised society and we all have a part to play in ensuring it does not go unnoticed.'