FLEX ensures Home Secretary will protect post-Brexit farmworkers from debt bondage

News28 Nov 2018

Post-Brexit plans for a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme risk pushing many migrant farm workers into human trafficking.

FLEX is pleased to have worked with Alex Norris MP to ensure the Home Secretary will act on this risk. 

Yesterday, at the Home Affairs Select Committee's oral evidence session with the Home Secretary, Mr Norris raised this important issue. The Home Secretary confirmed that it was "very reasonable" to raise this point and that the government remains committed to tackling modern slavery. He said that the government would keep the issue in mind in design of the pilot and he then committed to including risk of slavery and trafficking in the evalution of the pilot. 

You can view the exchange in the clip below:

The risk of debt bondage under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) pilot

Debt bondage occurs when a person is forced to work to pay off a debt and is a key feature of much human trafficking. Today, it is estimated by the International Labour Organisation that around 50% of victims of forced labour in the private economy are in debt bondage.

The risk of debt bondage is present in temporary migrant worker schemes like the SAWS because workers will need to pay visa and flight fees to join the scheme, and may additionally be charged recruitment fees by labour brokers overseas. Where workers cannot pay these costs upfront, they are often packaged into loans by labour brokers or other intermediaries with high interest rates on repayment. Migrant workers may then be required to pay back those fees before being paid their wages, in part or in full.

If workers are furthermore unable to leave their employer, either because their visa legally 'ties' them to that employer or because they are legally required to live in the employer's accommodation, workers will be in a state of forced labour with no route out, except to risk destitution, deportation and indebtedness.

FLEX considers it crucial that the government protect the SAWS from debt bondage cases. To do so, it should ensure sufficient resourcing for the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority to inspect and safeguard the scheme; ensure workers are not on tied visas or obliged to stay in employers' accommodation; and ensure workers are given pre-departure information about their labour rights in the UK and how to access help if needed.

Read our full briefing on SAWS and the solutions needed here. For media comment, please contact [email protected] or telephone 07931687890.