A taskforce is investigating the recruitment process of Indonesian workers who go to pick fruit on U.K. farms. Indonesia launched the investigation after laborers told the Guardian they took on debts of up to £5,000 to secure work on farms in Kent.
Debt raises risk of forced labor
Indonesian fruit pickers told the Guardian that brokers in Bali charged them exorbitant fees to get a job for one season on farms in the U.K. The laborers were working on a farm that supplies major U.K. grocery stores, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.
One worker told the Guardian how he staked his family home in Bali as surety on the debt and feared losing it. Migrant rights experts said the potential to be trapped in debt bondage put workers at risk of essentially forced labour.
The investigation begins
The Indonesia Migrant Workers Protection Bureau (BP2MI) has sent four officers to look into recruitment brokers operating on a series of Indonesian islands.
The chair of BP2MI, Benny Rhamdani, said in a statement: “This practice is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Overcharging is part of the crime of exploitation of workers.”
Simultaneously, the U.K.’s Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority is investigating the recruitment process. The grocery stores have also offered to support the investigation and the remediation process.
Passing the blame
Clock House, a farm in Kent, which employed many Indonesian workers this season said it was “deeply concerned” about the allegations. A spokesperson claimed it had relied on a licensed recruitment agent, AG Recruitment, and acted in good faith.
AG Recruitment claimed it did not know about Indonesian brokers charging fees, alleging that it had worked with the Indonesian company Al Zubjara Manpower to source workers. Al Zubjara in turn worked with the brokers who charged the workers.
Andy Hall, a migrant rights expert, said: “Passing the buck and claiming a lack of primary remit or responsibility for solving these cross-border issues by any of these actors in either country must stop.”
Hall, who investigates forced labor in Asia, called on the farms, grocery stores, recruitment agents and law enforcement in both countries to make a concerted effort to address the claims.
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