UN expert warns UK government about forced labor under seasonal worker scheme: Bureau of Investigative Journalism – JURIST

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UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery Tomoya Obokata warned the UK government that reports of forced labor under the country’s seasonal worker scheme could amount to potential breaches of international law, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) said on Friday. The seasonal worker scheme was introduced in 2019 to remedy labor shortages that were caused by Brexit, such as acts of intimidation, threats, sexual harassment and poor living conditions for people working on UK farms, long hours, underpayment and a lack of access to sick leave,

Obokata expressed his concerns over the government’s failure to investigate reports of abuse and forced labor, stating, “If the UK government is not properly conducting labour inspections, identifying abuse and holding perpetrators to account that is a clear breach of an international human rights obligation.” The Special Rapporteur further highlighted the weaknesses of the UK seasonal scheme, which relies on private sector recruiters known as “scheme operators.” The operators, Obokata says, create a “relationship of dependence”, making it difficult for workers to speak out against abuse or mistreatment. He stressed that it is the role of the government to protect the well-being of workers by “monitoring and inspecting workplaces”.

TBIJ previously reported in October 2023 on the UK government’s lack of action regarding the mistreatment of seasonal workers, despite the Home Office’s knowledge about allegations of mistreatment on UK farms. TBIJ said the government’s failure to investigate said allegations constitute a violation of its obligation to prevent modern slavery.

According to reports obtained from the Home Office by freedom of information requests from TBIJ, 44 percent of workers who were interviewed as part of the investigation were subjected to mistreatment like racism, wage theft and threats of being sent back home. In three of the most complained-about farms, 80 percent of workers reported acts of mistreatment or discrimination.

In March 2023, TBIJ revealed the exploitative nature of UK farms in an investigation with VICE WORLD News. Migrants working at more than 20 UK farms, nurseries and packhouses in 2022, complained of mistreatment such as not being able to use the toilet “for fear of not hitting targets,” “being made to work in gale-force winds”, or being “shouted at or punished for having their mobile in their pocket or talking to work colleagues while on the field.”



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