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Labour providers play an essential part in the agricultural and food packaging/processing industries, but the nature of the business provides ample scope for abuse – both of workers and the law - exemplified by the tragedy at Morecambe Bay in February 2004.

Government has been working hard to address the abuses over the years. For example, “Operation Gangmaster” – led by the Department for Work and Pensions and involving a variety of Government enforcement bodies - has begun to have a considerable impact, particularly in respect of some of the largest unscrupulous gangmasters. Likewise, other enforcement bodies for relevant legislation – HM Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue, Health and Safety Executive – have increased their enforcement activity against certain labour providers to good effect.

However, for action to be really effective, the entire supply chain needs to be involved in stamping out illegal practices. The Ethical Trading Initiative has been successful in engaging the whole supply chain – from the providers of labour to farmers and packhouses through to the supermarkets – in the development of the Code of Practice for [Labour Providers to the Agricultural and Fresh Produce Trade]. This has had the very beneficial side effect of providing a broad coalition in support of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act, a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Jim Sheridan, which has helped secure it a smooth passage through Parliament.

The Code of Practice complements the legislation in two ways. It will help secure improvements in the two years or so before the legislation is fully implemented, and the experience with it will inform the policies and practices of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which is expected to be operational in April 2014. The Code is rigorous and lengthy, but also realistic. It is a model of co-operative working.

Experience suggests that drawing up a code of practice is easy – compared with the task of implementation. There are any number of codes of practice that look good on paper, but which are simply not implemented. That is why it has been so important to secure the commitment of the National Farmers Union, the Fresh Produce Consortium, the Association of Labour Providers and the major supermarket groups to this code. The Association of Labour Providers is making compliance with the Code a condition of membership. The Fresh Produce Consortium and the National Farmers Union have urged their members to use only labour providers that comply with the code. To reinforce these commitments the supermarkets are actively encouraging all suppliers to use only labour providers who are working to comply with the code of practice. For its part the Government is committed to stepping up enforcement action against illegal gangmasters and will also be carefully watching to learn from the lessons of implementing this Code and preparing the ground for the work of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

I congratulate the Ethical Trading Initiative (and others such as Fusion Personnel who have played a key role for several years) for bringing together those who have been involved in the difficult task of drawing up this code, as well the TGWU, NFU, FPC and the industry leaders who have committed their organisations to ensuring its implementation.

Lord (Larry) Whitty
Parliamentary Under-Secretary at Defra

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