Ending Exploitation in Supermarket Supply Chains

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 18th October 2018.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 1:20 pm, 18th October 2018

Exactly. There is also a huge lack of information held on companies that have provided a statement, with a significant amount of companies providing no statement at all. Only 50% of the agricultural companies that fall within the scope of the Modern Slavery Act’s corporate reporting requirement have published a modern slavery statement, and only 38% of those statements were compliant with the requirements of the law, meaning that overall only 19% of the agricultural sector is abiding by the terms of the Act. Section 54 as currently implemented is not fit for purpose and has significant limitations. This is due to the inability to monitor compliance by businesses and no assessment of the quality of modern slavery statements being published. The Welsh Government have put together an ethical code of practice on supply chains and the Co-operative party has launched a modern slavery charter which looks at local council supply chains. These are both progressive moves, but it takes leadership at national level to ensure consistency in this approach.

The Government recently announced a new two-year pilot scheme to bring temporary migrant workers from outside the EU to work in the UK agricultural sector. The stated aim of the pilot is to ease labour shortages in the sector during peak production periods. Lessons from the UK’s previous seasonal agricultural workers scheme and similar temporary migration programmes in other countries show how these types of schemes can create conditions in which modern slavery and labour exploitation can thrive. If the Government are going to introduce migration policies that will increase risks to workers, they must also take the necessary steps to mitigate and prevent such risks in order to ensure that modern slavery does not flourish in Brexit Britain. They must ensure that labour inspectorates have the resources to ensure they can inspect this programme and protect workers, and temporary workers must be provided with information on their labour rights and given support to raise cases of abuse.

We need to work together to end human trafficking and labour exploitation, and we must eradicate modern-day slavery. Companies must be held to account for the ethical impact of their activities, particularly where poor business practices directly contribute to the severe exploitation of workers. Currently, the traffickers are winning. Vulnerable adults and children are being exploited on an industrial scale across the UK and internationally. It is time to take action. We must stop this practice now.