British farms that are required to report on how they are addressing modern slavery are failing to do so despite being known sites for labor exploitation.
While the UK Modern Slavery Act obliges companies with a turnover of 36 million pounds ($46 million) or more to produce an annual statement, a new report from the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner reveals that less than half of agricultural firms are complying.
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“The initial response from agricultural companies to these reporting requirements was found to be generally poor, and, if anything, is getting worse,” lead author Andrew Phillips said in a statement.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that even some firms that do submit statements simply reuse those from the previous year:
Agriculture is high-risk as it relies on low-skilled seasonal immigrant workers who sometimes face exploitative wages, unsanitary working and living conditions and even physical attacks from supervisors, experts say.
The National Farmers Union said farmers took their responsibilities on the issue “very seriously”.
But the report, jointly released by the Commissioner and the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, found almost one in five of the companies that published a statement this year had simply reused last year’s.
Many provided only generic comments about modern slavery and did not refer to any steps taken to address it. Only a minority fulfilled the requirements in full.
Justine Currell, director of anti-slavery group Unseen, pointed out that the agriculture sector tends to rely on a migrant workforce.
“Due to the nature of the work, it is not necessary to speak English, which … is used as a way of controlling those who do not know or cannot understand their rights,” she said.
Anti-slavery body Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) noted that most victims of modern slavery in the UK — around 136,000 people according to the Global Slavery Index — are immigrants and vulnerable people, often working at car washes, construction sites, hotels, nail bars, and farms.