Some migrants are working under threatening and inhumane conditions for little or no pay in parts of the UK food industry according to new research by the Joseph Rowantree Foundations.
The report – Experiences of forced labour in the UK food industry – was written by a team of researchers including geography lecturer Dr Alistair Geddes from the School of Humanities.
The report is one of the largest studies revealing what migrant workers actually experience when they are severely exploited at work.
A significant proportion of those interviewed had paid fees to agents to get to the UK and obtain work. Isolated, unaware of their rights and trapped in debt, researchers found cases of migrants being forced to share cramped accommodation (sometimes with strangers), subject to threats and racist bullying, and vulnerable to scams such as 'under-work' - the practice of recruiting too many workers and then giving them just enough work to meet their debt to the gangmaster.
Productivity targets and workplace surveillance were found to be excessive; workers felt they were treated like machines rather than people and given targets that were often impossible to meet. Some workers were timed when taking toilet breaks and given impossible packing and picking targets to meet.
The report recommends a number of changes to policy including continued government support for the Gangmasters' Licensing Authority and possible strengthening of its powers, increased monitoring of supply chains by large food retailers and suppliers, an increased focus on how migrant workers can more easily seek legal redress and compensation and improved access to English language provision.