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HR News Update – New guidance to "stamp out slave labour in the UK food industry"

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Work to stamp out slave labour in the UK food industry is continuing with the release of new guidance from Stronger Together, an industry initiative set up to reduce the risk of modern slavery in supply chains.

Fair and legal treatment of workers is essential for building sustainable business, yet the food and agricultural sector supply chain is targeted by criminal gangs and exploitative individuals who subject vulnerable people to the worst forms of hidden labour exploitation, including human trafficking and forced labour. In 2012, 29 per cent of cases of trafficking for forced labour reported to the UK Human Trafficking Centre occurred within the food processing and agricultural sectors. Only last week the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) revealed that 20 Romanian nationals had been rescued by police in County Armagh. The 14 men and six women had been working in a meat processing factory and were identified as potential victims of human trafficking for labour exploitation.

Stronger Together is today launching new guidance, entitled ‘Transparency in the UK Food Supply Chain – Guidance on ensuring ethical labour standards’ The document, which is free to download at www.stronger2gether.org, lays out pragmatic and straightforward good practice for UK-based growers and producers. Specifically, businesses are being encouraged to incorporate a three-step approach into their management practices. Step one is to map and risk assess the supply chain. Step two is to set and agree standards with key suppliers for the supply and management of labour and services. Step three involves working in partnership to ensure due diligence with those agreed standards. The new guidance is the latest in a series of resources made available to businesses by Stronger Together, a multi-stakeholder initiative launched in October 2013 to help tackle modern day slavery.

David Camp, Director of the Association of Labour Providers and Programme Manager for Stronger Together, says: “Stronger Together equips employers with the knowledge and resources to deter, detect and tackle hidden forced labour in their supply chains by providing access via www.stronger2gether.org to a range of free resources, including best practice guidance and a toolkit containing multi-language workplace posters, leaflets, template forms and procedures and a powerful video.” The Stronger Together website also provides access to places on ‘Tackling Hidden Worker Exploitation’ workshops being held across the UK to further help businesses understand their responsibilities and the best practice associated with combating modern day slavery.

Following the Government's announcement in June that the use of exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts will be banned, this week they have launched a further consultation asking for views on how to stop employers side-stepping this ban.Howes Percival Employment Law expert Harriet Howes comments, “Zero hours contracts have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly in sectors such as hospitality.  They continue to be a hot topic and this further consultation demonstrates that the Government is keen to try and ensure they effectively regulate the use of these contracts.

“As we have no implementation date for the ban on exclusivity clauses yet, employers do not have to take any immediate action.  However, employers who currently have exclusivity clauses in their contracts will need to watch this space as further regulations may be issued in November, following this consultation.”Last summer the Government conducted an informal information gathering exercise on zero hours contracts in response to concerns about abuse of this type of contract.Following that review, the Government launched a public consultation seeking views on the merit of banning exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts.  83 percent of people who responded to the consultation supported a ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts.As a result, the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill has introduced a provision that will ban the use of exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts which do not guarantee any hours.  This bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons in October.

However, following the consultation, concerns were raised that employers could potentially sidestep the exclusivity ban, for example by offering contracts that guarantee just one hour of work.

In order to try and address these concerns, on Monday, the Government launched a further consultation which seeks views on the best mechanism to tackle avoidance of the exclusivity ban in contracts and possible routes of redress for the individual.The consultation asks for views on:what the likelihood of employers avoiding a ban on exclusivity clauses might be and how that might be achieved;whether the government should do more to deal with potential avoidance, how might that be best achieved, and whether to do this alongside the ban or wait for evidence of whether such avoidance is taking place;how potential avoidance could be dealt with;whether there should be consequences for an employer if they circumvent a ban on exclusivity clause and, if so, what those consequences should be; andwhether there are any potentially negative or unintended consequences as a result of the wording of the legislation.The consultation closes on 3 November 2014.

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