Clock House Farm initiated a gathering of growers, government-approved operators, and key stakeholder organizations in London this month to discuss how to address the challenges associated with overseas recruitment – including concerns regarding migrant worker welfare.
The grower roundtable hosted by Clock House at the Farmers Club, London SW1, provided a forum for constructive debate and an opportunity to identify a number of initiatives designed to improve the outcome for potential employees from overseas who, following Brexit and also the outbreak of war in Ukraine, are now being recruited from further afield. In addition, the meeting aimed to place a spotlight on positive protocols in the field to benefit the experience for growers and operators.
With growers under pressure to confirm their labor requirements ahead of Christmas for the upcoming season, there is a sense of urgency to instigate change to ensure confidence that a workforce has not been exposed to any corrupt ethics (including payment of fees/loans to secure a job in the UK) as instigated by third party operators in the country of origin. Equally, growers and operators acknowledged the need to unite to be more proactive in promoting the best practice that already exists in the industry.
The meeting, chaired by Peter Carroll (former special advisor to HM Treasury and architect behind the Gurkha Justice / Fair Fuel UK campaigns), saw 23 delegates come together to discuss the critical issues at play. Delegates included representatives from the fruit growing community; operators approved by the Home Office to recruit workers under the Seasonal Worker Scheme; representation for the NFU, HTA, British Berry Growers, and Berry Gardens and the Chief Executive of the Association of Labour Providers / the co-CEO of Stronger Together who both promote the importance of responsible worker recruitment, their right to fair treatment and the need to abolish exploitation.
All attendees agreed to consider the following four priorities:
- Growers to unite to produce a Growers’ Charter detailing guidance spanning a number of areas, including recruitment protocols, minimum hours, the standard of accommodation, and welfare matters
- Operators to underpin their commitment to responsible recruitment via a formal public declaration
- All parties are to agree on a list of requests to the government designed to improve the current Seasonal Worker Scheme. These include improved flexibility regarding the time that workers can stay in the UK and earlier decision-making regarding the total number of workers permitted under the scheme
- The introduction of a generic campaign theme or brand which would support the above recommendations
Commenting on the grower roundtable, Oli Pascall, managing director of Clock House Farm, said, “It was encouraging to see such an enthusiastic response to this initiative and to witness the genuine commitment that exists to work collaboratively to seek out improvements. These will benefit all parties, especially ultimately our prospective staff, but at the same time, will offer added reassurance to our customers, the retailers. While some of the past media attention may have chosen to focus on individual growers, this is clearly an industry-wide issue that demands a response that takes into consideration feedback from across the whole supply chain. As growers, we are keen to join forces to protect our industry and to put in place some immediate measures designed to initiate change in the short-term alongside other more long-term aspirations.”
Nick Marston, British Berry Growers chair, said, “Berry farms in the UK employ around 29,000 seasonal workers from overseas every year. These workers are an essential and highly valued part of our industry workforce. British Berry Grower members are committed to working with all those involved to ensure that their staff, especially those traveling here from overseas, are treated fairly and ethically. This includes ensuring there is no risk of labor exploitation through unfair practices or charges.”
David Camp, ALP Chief Executive, said, “There is still much work to do to ensure that all seasonal horticultural workers have positive recruitment and working experience on UK farms. To drive these improvements, effective collaboration is needed between recruiters, growers, NGOs, supermarkets, and government. I welcome this initiative and commitment from growers and look forward to working together to achieve this.”