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Increasing concerns over modern slavery in the UK's agricultural sector

The UK's modern slavery and exploitation helpline has reported a significant increase in suspected cases of labour abuse and forced labour within the agricultural sector, a recent report reveals. In 2022, there were indications of 712 potential victims of modern slavery in the sector, accounting for nearly 18% of all potential victims identified through the helpline.

Several factors might be contributing to this alarming rise. The aftermath of Brexit and the pandemic has led to rapid recruitment of workers without proper safeguarding, increasing the potential for exploitation. Many of these workers, especially foreign nationals, are unfamiliar with their rights in the UK, making them more vulnerable.

The report highlights that many workers arrive in the UK burdened with substantial debt, often due to fees paid to third-party facilitators in their home countries or directly to their employers for sponsorship certificates. In some instances, debts can reach as high as £25,000. Coupled with deductions from their pay for accommodation, food, and transport, many find themselves trapped in a cycle of debt they cannot escape.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has also expressed concerns about unethical international recruitment practices. In the 2022/23 period, the regulator made 37 referrals related to modern slavery, labour exploitation, and international visas, a significant increase from the eight referrals made in the previous year.

The report by Unseen, the charity that operates the helpline, emphasises that as the UK continues to face labour shortages, the risk for vulnerable workers, especially in sectors like agriculture, remains high. The charity has made several recommendations, including providing sufficient information about workers' rights to those intending to come to the UK and implementing stricter guidelines around repayment clauses and exit fees.

The government has yet to comment on these findings.


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