3rd June 2024: Migrant workers must be protected from deception and exploitation say UN experts in press statement

Migrant workers must be protected from deception and exploitation say UN experts in press statement

3rd June 2024: Migrant workers must be protected from deception and exploitation say UN experts

Dhaka wanted to allow all 1,520 licensed recruiting agencies to send manpower to Malaysia, but Kuala Lumpur selected only 101 agents, which industry insiders say are involved in manipulation and exploitation of migrant workers from Bangladesh.

Original Source: OHCHR – 3rd June 2024

GENEVA (3 June 2024) – UN experts* today expressed alarm at the systemic exposure of migrant workers in the UK to protection risks related to deception, exorbitant recruitment fees, debt bondage, undignified living conditions, and potential deportation.

“According to allegations received, migrants are deceived about working and living conditions and the nature of their agreements with employers in the agricultural or care sectors. This is unlawful and highlights the need for urgent reform of the current system governing labour migration, to ensure effective protection of the rights of migrant workers,” the experts said.

They were concerned about the shortcomings of the Seasonal Worker Scheme, which was put in place to cover labour shortages in the UK. Licensed recruitment companies, known as “scheme operators”, recruit migrants from many countries to work on farms or in poultry production. Some recruitment agents illegally charge more than £3,000 to secure employment in the UK, pushing the affected migrant workers into debt bondage. Other migrants arrive in the country with a job promised in the agricultural or care sector, only to find that no work is available to them.

While the experts acknowledged the Government’s efforts in revoking the licences of non-compliant employers in the care sector, they expressed deep concern about the lack of safeguards for migrant workers who are left without a job if their employer’s licence is withdrawn. In such circumstances, many are allegedly threatened with deportation, while some of the migrants may be victims of trafficking in persons and other forms of exploitation, requiring assistance, protection, and access to compensation.

“The Government needs to hold scheme operators accountable through effective supervision and audits, as well as regular labour inspections on farms, protecting against human rights abuse by business enterprises domiciled in its territory, in line with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Perpetrators of labour exploitation must be prosecuted, and access to justice and effective remedies must be guaranteed to victims. Currently, too many temporary migrant workers have been in a legal limbo for too long and risk becoming destitute,” the experts said.

They urged the UK to govern labour migration more effectively by adopting adequate policies and safeguards, preventing deception, stepping up efforts to identify, protect, and assist victims of exploitation and prevent trafficking for purposes of labour exploitation, and upholding the country’s international human rights obligations.

The experts previously engaged with the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandHaygrove Limited, and Fruitful Jobs on the above issues of concern, and the Government and the two companies provided replies to the allegations raised.

*The expertsTomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequencesSiobhán MullallySpecial Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Gehad Madi, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Robert McCorquodale (Chair-Rapporteur), Fernanda Hopenhaym (Vice-Chair), Pichamon Yeophantong, Damilola Olawuyi, Elzbieta Karska, Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises;

The Special Rapporteur, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

3rd June 2024: The Guardian ‘He didn’t have a contract for me’: the Indian careworkers who paid agents to work in Britain 

Original Source: The Guardian Kiran Stacey and Poonam Joshi – 3rd June 2024

People paid to obtain visas and sponsorship certificates but arrived to find little or no work, in abuses of care worker visa system

Akhil Jenny was living in a small town in southern India, struggling with crippling debts, when a work contact offered him a way out.

“I had some loans which I had taken out for medical care and I couldn’t repay them,” Jenny told the Guardian. “I had a nursing qualification and wanted to come to the UK. That’s what Shinto Sebastian offered me – a well-paid job as a care worker in Britain. It solved all my problems.”

Over the next few months Jenny was to realise the offer from Sebastian, an India-based immigration agent, was too good to be true.

Jenny sold off family assets to pay his agent, only to find that the British company which sponsored him had no care job for him when he arrived.

Workers who came to Britain legally are now trapped with small sources of irregular income, unable to leave their employer for fear of deportation, and unable to go home for fear of being unable to pay off their debts.

Akhil Jenny: he is photographed sitting at the bottom of a flight of stairs resting his feet on a grey carpet. He is a young Indian man with black hair and a short beard; he wears glasses, a brown zip-up hoodie, grey jeans and tan walking shoes.
When Akhil Jenny arrived in Sheffield, having paid an immigration agent £16,000, he was told there was no work.Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

While the government has tightened up the number of people who can enter Britain on care worker visas, experts say it has done little to tackle the deeper problem of rampant abuse of the immigration system. Dora-Olivia Vicol, the chief executive of the Work Rights Centre, said many were being left “excluded from the benefits system, with no financial safety net, facing extraordinary risks and stress”.

The Guardian has spoken to dozens of migrant workers, all of whom described going through similar experiences.

In each case, the worker said they heard about a job opportunity in the UK, either through friends or social media influencers who referred them to an immigration agent in India. They said the immigration agent then charged them between £8,000 and £20,000 to process their visa, with some promising the money would cover flights, airport transfers, and a month’s accommodation too.

In most, but not all, cases the migrant workers said the India-based immigration agent worked with a British agent or recruitment company.

Eventually, the worker would be given a certificate showing they had secured sponsorship with a particular care home or agency. On each certificate, it listed not only the employer but also the hours they would work and the salary they would receive.

But on arrival in Britain, most said they found little or no work available. Some said they were asked to jump through hoops such as buying a car or securing a tenancy before being allowed to take on a few shifts. Some said they were simply told there was no work available and they were immediately sacked. In a few cases, they said they were asked to work for the care company – but as cleaners or drivers.

Vicol said: “The health and care worker visa has left hundreds of migrant care workers trapped in limbo.

“Many describe being tied to sponsors who offer little or no work, and banned from taking on full-time employment anywhere else. Many are already in debt after paying eye-watering recruitment fees.

“Excluded from the benefits system, they have no financial safety net and are facing extraordinary risks and stress. The only way to find a new job is by finding another licensed sponsor, but this is complex, expensive, and many of them simply can’t afford it.”

Akhil Jenny stands behind a young family with three small children, two boys and a girl; their father holds the girl in his arms and is smiling but the other two adults look serious. They are standing in front of a doorway inside a room with white-painted walls, a chipped wooden table and children’s clothing hanging up.
Akhil Jenny (at the back) is sharing accommodation with Geo Ambooken (right) and his wife, Shilja Kawakkacherry (left), and their children. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Jenny paid Sebastian £16,000, and was told this would cover flights, airport travel and one month’s accommodation, in addition to the cost of a sponsorship certificate (£239) and visa (£551 for more than three years). Jenny persuaded his father to sell off his family land – which was being kept as an asset to fund Jenny’s sister’s wedding – to pay his fees.

Just like others, Jenny was introduced to a British intermediary. In his case this was a company called London Radiant Group, run by a man called Yusuf Badarudeen, which describes itself online as a recruitment company.

It is not clear what services Badarudeen provided for Jenny, or whether he received money for this. Badarudeen told the Guardian he provided logistical support for incoming migrants such as training and accommodation, for which he charged a varying fee.

Badarudeen said in a statement: “We as a company help other overseas businesses for their customers in onboarding such as airport pickups, accommodation, general training through third-party providers.

“For these reasons there is a fee that we charge depending on the level of support, however we do not provide any certificate of sponsorship or employment to anybody.”

Eventually Sebastian gave Jenny a certificate of sponsorship endorsed by Flamelily, a Sheffield company providing at-home care workers, guaranteeing him 37.5 hours a week, on a salary of £21,580 a year. On the basis of that certificate, Sebastian was then able to procure him a visa.

Flamelily, which trades as Civility Care, promises on its website an “outstanding care service” provided alongside an “ethical care approach aligned with our family values”. Like all the employers in question, the care services it offers are regulated and approved by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). There is no suggestion those services are affected by the visa allegations.

Jenny got almost nothing he says he was promised.

First, he says, the agents told him he would need to pay for his own flights, then his own accommodation, and finally, his own taxi from Manchester airport to Sheffield.

When he did arrive in Sheffield, he called one of Flamelily’s directors – a man called Sheu Matewe – only to find there was no job.

“He said he didn’t have a contract for me,” Jenny said. Speaking in fluent English, he added: “He also said I didn’t speak proper English or have proper qualifications. I fought a lot with him and finally he gave me a cleaning job, working for two or three hours a day maximum for £11 an hour.”

Jenny is still living in Sheffield, sharing a bed with another migrant worker. Sometimes if he wants more privacy, he sleeps on the kitchen floor.

For a while he was working irregular shifts as a driver for Flamelily, but two months ago Matewe emailed him to say his employment was being terminated, a decision which Matewe said was driven by “operational realities”.

Akhil Jenny and Geo Ambooken: they are sitting on a couch in a white-painted and rather bare-looking living room with a light brown sofa and striped cushions. Jenny wears a brown zip-up hoodie and Ambooken, who also has short black hair and a beard, wears a dark blue sweatshirt with a logo in white reading Staywild and blue jeans.
Akhil Jenny and Geo Ambooken (right) had both been working as drivers for the care services company but Jenny (left) had his employment terminated two months ago.Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Jenny’s housemate Geo Ambooken describes a similar experience.

Ambooken paid Badarudeen for what he said he thought were immigration services, putting over £2,000 in a UK account belonging to another company of which Badarudeen is a director, Brittish Group Ltd [sic].

Like Jenny, Ambooken was sponsored by Flamelily but, he says, was told there was no care work available when he arrived. Like Jenny, he says he ended up working as a driver for the company instead, ferrying around other care workers and getting paid £80 a day for an average of 16 hours’ work.

Asked about taking payments from migrant workers, Badarudeen said: “We are not aware of any payment that they are claiming to have paid to [the] abovementioned company. However, there was a payment made to a London account which was for a family onboarding.”

Geo Ambooken, his wife, and their three young children, all standing in a living room with a pale brown sofa, wooden table and grey carpet. Children’s clothes are seen hanging on a drying rack and shoes under the table. The mother is holding the little girl in her arms while the two boys stand in front of their father; the boys are dressed in T-shirts and pyjama trousers.
Geo Ambooken paid over £2000 to a company of which Yusuf Badarudeen was director. Badarudeen told the Guardian a payment was made ‘to a London account’ for ‘family onboarding’. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Asked to specify what he provided as part of that onboarding process, Badarudeen added: “Please do not get in touch with me as I have given you enough information.”

Matewe said: “The claims made about our company offering nonexistent or unsuitable work opportunities to migrant workers are categorically false. Flamelily Care Ltd operates transparently and ethically, and we are committed to upholding the welfare and rights of all employees and visa applicants.”

He added, however: “In response to these allegations, we are launching our own internal investigation to thoroughly examine these accusations and ensure that our practices align with our values and legal obligations. We are also liaising with legal advisers to understand the full scope of these claims and take appropriate action.”

Lawyers told the Guardian that issuing a certificate of sponsorship without having a specific job to offer would break the Home Office’s rules on how they should be issued, and could be enough for officials to revoke a licence to issue more. Multiple migrant workers – including Jenny – told the Guardian they had reported Flamelily to the Home Office, but the company still has its Home Office licence.

The Home Office would not comment on individual cases or companies.

Nishamol Sebastian, another care worker from the south of India, paid her agents over £15,000 in fees which she believed were to pay for her visa.

She was due to work for a care provider called Homecare1st, which sponsored her visa. But when she arrived in the UK, she says she was told by the company’s director, Matilda Mwenya, she would have to get a driving licence and a car before she could start.

Sebastian bought a car for £2,250. Then, she says, Mwenya told her to take out business insurance at an extra cost of £2,000.

Two months after arriving, Sebastian started work. But instead of the 39 hours of work promised on her sponsorship certificate, she says she was made to work 90, for which she was paid £1,700 a month, equivalent to just over £4 an hour – well below the minimum wage.

Last July, she got a message from Mwenya, saying the company’s licence to sponsor new migrants had been suspended. Then another message said the company no longer had enough work, and would have to put her and others on unpaid leave for four weeks.

Four months later the Home Office reinstated the company’s licence but Sebastian, who says she did not work for them during that time, had had enough. She managed to find another job, with an employer who would give her a new certificate of sponsorship, and she now works in a neurological rehabilitation centre in Bagshot.

Others, however, say they have not been so lucky.

The Guardian has spoken to 12 migrants who came to Britain to work for Homecare1st, all of whom said they were not given the work listed on their certificates of sponsorship.

Some say they were told to do unpaid office work, others say they were given no shifts at all. One says his employment was terminated after two days after being told the company’s licence had been suspended and there was no work available.

Three paid Mwenya between £2,000 and £6,000 for what they believed to be visa fees before they came to the UK.

When one of them complained about not getting work, he said Mwenya told him she would refund the money via his agent. He says the money was never returned.

Mwenya told the Guardian: “All employees are aware of the channels within the company to raise any concerns they may have, if they wish, and none were raised.”

Several migrant workers say they complained to the Home Office about Homecare1st. But after officials reinstated its licence to issue certificates of sponsorship last year, it has continued to be allowed to bring new migrant workers into Britain. The Home Office would not comment on individual companies or licensing decisions.

The Guardian has spoken to dozens of other migrant workers all with similar stories, all of whom are desperate for help from UK regulators or law officers.

But David Neal, the government’s former chief inspector of borders, told the Guardian: “Rather like the Post Office scandal, there is a real problem of the system rolling its eyes and then just not doing anything about it.”

Experts say regulators such as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), which was set up in the aftermath of the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockle-picking disaster, are underfunded and unsure of how to deal with the changing nature of modern-day slavery allegations.

Eleanor Lyons, the government’s anti-slavery commissioner, told MPs in February she was concerned about exploitation of care workers, but also explained she was dealing with dwindling resources. “I think it’s fair to say now that the focus of the Home Office is on tackling illegal migration and small boats, and that modern slavery and human trafficking is no longer the priority that it was,” she told the home affairs select committee.

The police also seem unsure of how to deal with such cases. Several of the workers the Guardian spoke to also approached the police for help, but while lawyers say some of the allegations have what look like indicators of modern slavery, no action appears to have been taken.

Nishamol Sebastian said: “I have complained to the chief minister of Kerala [her home state], to the CQC. The police said this was not modern slavery, and told me to go to a food bank. CQC said they would take action. I spoke to the Home Office. Hampshire council and Bagshot council both called from their safeguarding teams. But nothing has been done.”

11th May 2023: Bureau of Investigative Journalism ‘One hell to another’: Thousands of care workers risk deportation after employers breach rules

Original Source: TBIJ by By Emiliano Mellino and Vicky Gayle – 11th May 2024

This story was published in partnership with:

When Zainab Contractor came from India to the UK, she was hoping to secure a better future for her son. Instead she has been scammed out of thousands of pounds, denied the job she was promised and given 60 days to find a new visa sponsor or leave the country.

She and her brother Ismail had been given care worker visas by the UK government. The company offering them employment, 24/7 Flex Care, had promised full-time jobs, five years’ visa sponsorship, reimbursement for flight costs, a month’s free accommodation and a one-off payment of £500 each.

First, though, they had to pay money up front. So, after borrowing from family members, they handed over a combined total of £18,000 to a third-party recruiter.

But when they arrived in the UK, they say they were given no accommodation, no money for their flights and no work. The only money either of them ever received from 24/7 Flex Care was £500, paid to Ismail after he went to the offices to complain.

The family eventually found themselves in a shared house where Zainab and her husband stay in a room with their toddler, and Ismail in another with a stranger.‘We don’t know how we will survive’

Then, in April, they both received letters from the Home Office saying the company had lost its licence to sponsor overseas care workers – and as a result they have until mid-June to secure a new visa or else return to India.

“[They are] taking money from us and not even giving work,” said Ismail. “It’s not fair.” He supports three younger siblings and his parents in India, and quit his job as an investor service analyst to come to the UK.

“We are being thrown out [of the UK] without being heard.”

Between them, they have applied to about 300 care providers to try to find a new employer, but without success. Zainab said that many of the companies she called were not sponsoring workers. Recruiters that did offer her a job have asked for upwards of £10,000 in recruitment fees.

“We don’t know how we will survive,” she said.

Zainab and Ismail are among the thousands of care workers left without jobs and at risk of deportationRichard Saker/The Observer

Thousands left in limbo

Zainab and Ismail are not alone. They are among the thousands of migrant care workers who have faced the possibility of losing their visas after their employer has had its sponsorship licence revoked.

Data obtained via freedom of information requests shows that 122 companies had their licences revoked in 2022 and 2023. This resulted in nearly 3,000 care workers having their sponsorship cancelled, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Observer can reveal. The Home Office did not respond when asked how many of these people have had to leave the UK.
‘My experience in this country has been from one hell to another’

An employer’s licence is revoked because the company has broken the rules. But consequences fall on the workers: their certificate of sponsorship is cancelled and they are sent a letter by the Home Office saying they have 60 days to find another eligible employer or else leave the country.

This means that the thousands of pounds they might have spent getting to the UK is also lost. And failure to leave can result in the worker being prosecuted or deported.

The Home Office told TBIJ it was working with the care sector to set up ways to help care workers find alternative jobs if their sponsor has had their licence removed.

Katherine*, 32, received her letter in March. She had left her job as a teacher in Nigeria to become a care worker in the UK. She and her husband sold their land and car dealership business to cover relocation costs.

Trapped in work project

Lifting the lid on exploitation faced by migrant workers in the UK’s visa system

Project available HERE

But when they arrived, Katherine was not given the work she had been promised by the company sponsoring her, S&K Care 24. They went to the business park where it was based only to find a sign saying its offices had moved, with no mention of a new address.

“[The manager] was not taking my calls. I sent him several Whatsapp texts and he… would not reply,” Katherine said. “We did not know what to think and we did not know what to do. We were frustrated and confused.”

Other tenants of the business park said that the office had been mostly empty. “They set up an office for one day and were never seen again,” said one tenant. He said people would show up looking for the company on a daily basis, saying they had received no work.

Kay Mayo, registered manager of S&K Care 24, admitted to TBIJ that no care worker sponsored by her company had been given any work because it had not managed to secure care provision contracts with local authorities.

As a result of this, and because the company was acting as a recruitment agency, the Home Office subsequently revoked its sponsor licence, she said. She denied the office had been empty, and said she had been asked by the landlord to leave.

Katherine did not end up getting a single day’s work from S&K Care 24. She now has a week left to find a new sponsor or lose her visa.

When she came to the UK, she was 27 weeks pregnant – something her employer was made aware of – and she has since undergone an emergency caesarean section, which she believes was down to the stress and lack of food.

After the procedure, the Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust sent her a bill for nearly £11,000, despite migrant care workers being entitled to free NHS treatment. After being contacted by TBIJ, the trust said the charge had been made in error and apologised for the distress caused.

“My experience in this country has been from one hell to another,” said Katherine.

‘They’ve been punished twice’

The government does not publish the names of the companies that have had sponsor licences revoked or the reasons why.

Guidance issued to sponsors explains that action can be taken for infractions such as sponsoring workers when there are no vacancies or paying people less than was agreed.

However, aside from losing its overseas sponsorship licence, there are often no further consequences for a sponsor that breaks the rules.

Meanwhile, the Home Office is “punishing workers who have followed the rules”, said Aké Achi, the founder and chief executive of Migrants at Work Ltd, an organisation that supports people who have come to the UK on work visas.

“They’ve been punished twice,” he said – first by sponsors who have exploited them and then by the Home Office’s threat of deportation.

And while migrant care workers are being told to leave the UK, labour shortages persist. The latest data from charity Skills for Care shows 152,000 vacancies in the sector.

“It is an absolute crisis for the carers,” said Rumbi Bvunzawabaya, who advises care providers as a solicitor and is CEO of migrant-support organisation Tulia. She said while workers are being told they have to find a new employer, she has noticed in her work that the Home Office has made it harder for companies to sponsor visas.

The number of workers left in this situation is likely to have increased substantially during 2024, Bvunzawabaya said, because of the number of revocations she is aware have taken place so far this year. When she holds advice drop-in sessions in Coventry, care workers travel from as far as Northern Ireland to get support.

Lack of regulation

Campaigners and civil servants have criticised the government for failing to regulate companies before granting them sponsorship licences, as well as the way in which some licences have been revoked.

A recent report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), the government’s immigration watchdog, found there was only one compliance officer for every 1,600 employers licensed to sponsor migrant workers.

It said licences were being granted even when compliance officers had expressed concerns about the company. In one instance, a licence was granted to a care manager who had been given a seven-year prison sentence for misconduct in public office.

In the case of Zainab’s former employer 24/7 Flex Care, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates health and social care providers, had raised the alarm as far back as April 2022. It warned that the company’s recruitment practices were not safe and that there was no evidence staff were being regularly tested for Covid-19 before going into vulnerable people’s homes. Yet the Home Office still granted the company a sponsorship licence a few months later.

Asked about this case, the Home Office did not respond. It told TBIJ: “Care providers acting as sponsors for migrants in England are now required to register with [the CQC] to crack down on worker exploitation and abuse within the sector.”

In a subsequent inspection earlier this year, the CQC cancelled the company’s registration, meaning it can no longer operate as a care provider. It reported that a culture of fear existed within the company, with staff “unwilling to speak to inspectors” and “fearful of repercussions”.

Besides Ismail and Zainab, dozens of other workers had been sponsored by the company and are likely to have been affected.‘Each time my children come back from school, they ask me if we’ve seen another sponsor. It was really stressful for them’

Home Office caseworkers told the ICIBI that they see cases of modern slavery on a daily basis but these were difficult to evidence because workers knew that a licence revocation could lead to them having their visa curtailed.

These findings are supported by a recent investigation by TBIJ and Citizens Advice based on the testimony of nearly 175 migrant care workers, many of whom said they were scared to report employers to the authorities because they feared losing their visas.

Zainab says that when she complained to 24/7 Flex Care, her manager warned her that she would be sent back to India if she spoke out.

The ICIBI report also cited a local authority that said the Home Office had suspended or revoked the licences of four providers without properly communicating it to the council, leaving 53 residents without care.

24/7 Flex Care did not respond to several requests for comment.

Hope for a few

Some care workers who faced losing their visa after licence revocations have been able to find a job within the small window given to them.

With five days left before her deadline, Rachel*, 43, from Nigeria was able to secure a sponsorship with the help of a friend from church.

She said the process not only affected her but also her three children who came to the UK, alongside her husband, as her dependents.

“Each time they come back from school, they will ask me if we’ve seen another sponsor. So it was really stressful for them,” she said.

She said others in her company have not been so lucky.

“It’s terrible, some of them cry,” she said. “You see a grown woman crying like a child … you wouldn’t even know the words you would tell her to console her.”

29th May 2024: UK ministers pressed ahead with seasonal worker visa scheme for migrants despite UN experts’ warning of forced labour and human trafficking risks

Original Source: The Independent by Emiliano Mellino and Holly Bancroft

UK ministers announced in May 2024 that the seasonal worker visa scheme would be extended until 2029. United Nations experts raised serious concerns about the risk of exploitation of migrant workers on UK farms with the Foreign Office just weeks before the visa scheme was extended.

Migrant fruit pickers who come to the UK to work on farms are being saddled with debts before they arriveSome have reported exploitation on the farms, including punishment for not meeting targets, discrimination, and poor living and working conditions.

The workers pay middlemen who help them get jobs through the government’s seasonal worker scheme, which has been extended to 2029.

In a letter sent in March to the foreign secretary David Cameron, and only recently made public, four UN special rapporteurs expressed concerns about reports of abuse taking place through the scheme.


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They said that, while the UK government recognises that migrants on the seasonal worker visa “may be more vulnerable and open to exploitation than other workers”, the oversight of the farms has been “insufficient”.

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They raised a number of individual cases, which they claimed “illustrate the general, underlying shortcomings in ensuring decent working and living conditions of migrant workers in the country”.

The UN special rapporteurs criticised regulators the Health and Safety Executive and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority for not appearing to “have taken timely and adequate action”.

They criticised the way the visa scheme was set up, which the experts said was “stopping many workers from reporting exploitation”.

Four UN special rapporteurs expressed concerns about reports of abuse taking place through the UK’s seasonal worker visa scheme
Four UN special rapporteurs expressed concerns about reports of abuse taking place through the UK’s seasonal worker visa scheme (The Independent )

The special rapporteurs, who are the UN’s independent experts on human rights issues, told the government they had similar concerns about the health and care worker visa.

See also: Independent 2nd June 2024: Vulnerable workers coming to UK in post-Brexit deal at risk of bullying and sexual harassment, report finds

In early May, environment secretary Steve Barclay extended the seasonal worker visa for five years to 2029, citing the labour shortages in the farming industry.

A total of 43,000 visas are available in the horticulture sector in 2025, with another 2,000 visas for poultry, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said.

Labour MP John McDonnell said urgent work is needed to stop exploitation in the farming sector. 

He said: “Migrant workers are the most exploited section of what has become known as the precariat. Their exploitation and the appalling treatment they receive at the hands of often brutal profiteering employers verges on modern day slavery. We urgently need comprehensive strong legislation and enforcement to tackle this stain on our economy.”

Much of the UN letter focused on allegations of underpayment and poor working conditions at Haygrove Ltd, one of the UK’s biggest fruit producers, and the recruitment of workers by Fruitful Jobs, one of the government-licensed recruiters for the seasonal worker visa scheme.

In response to the UN letter, Fruitful Jobs said it could not comment on the concerns rapporteurs had with the wider industry, but refuted any allegations against Fruitful Jobs. It made clear that Fruitful Jobs does not request or facilitate any form of payment from migrant workers for recruitment services. 

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Haygrove also disputed the allegations, saying that it treats workers well, adhering to all standards. Haygrove said that in a recent Home Office audit no evidence of wrongdoing, labour exploitation or modern slavery was found. 


Last year, a Bureau of Investigative Journalism investigation spoke to Latin American workers, employed at Haygrove, who claimed they were not paid for all the hours they worked, were punished by being denied work, and had faced bullying on the farm. One person said they were physically assaulted by a supervisor. 

Haygrove, which has fruit-growing farms in the UK, South Africa and Portugal, has denied all the allegations. It refuted any allegation of bullying or discrimination, and said pickers were paid for all the hours that they worked. It said the company was not aware of the alleged incident with the supervisor as no formal complaint was raised but that it would investigate.

In the letter, the UN special rapporteurs said the Home Office decided that there were reasonable grounds to conclude that four workers employed by Haygrove could have been victims of modern slavery. In all four cases a final decision is pending. The special rapporteurs wrote that based on the information they received, some of the individuals would fall under the definition of victims of trafficking. 

Haygrove said the UN experts’ views “give the false impression that there are serious and systemic issues with the way in which Haygrove’s seasonal workers are treated in the UK”, adding that it refutes such allegations “in the strongest terms”. 

Haygrove said the reported concerns related to an isolated incident of discontent amongst workers in July last year. It added that, while the company recognised some workers on UK farms paid high fees to secure employment, this was not the case for workers recruited by Fruitful Jobs or working on Haygrove’s farms. 

In its response, the government said it would not comment on ongoing investigations and that those who are “interested in the fair and unbiased application of the law” should “refrain from unhelpful public commentary or speculation”. It added that licensed recruiters known as “scheme operators” are responsible for placing workers on farms and ensuring their welfare. Failure to comply with rules “could” result in these recruiters losing their licences, it said. 

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The seasonal worker visa scheme was launched in 2019 to address labour shortages in the agricultural sector, which were expected to be exacerbated by the UK’s exit from the European Union. The scheme was rapidly expanded from an initial 2,500 workers coming in the first year, to more than 30,000 last year. Earlier this month the government announced that the scheme would be extended until 2029.

Robyn Phillips, director of operations at the Human Trafficking Foundation, said addressing the exploitation of workers on certain visas, such as the seasonal worker visa, health and care visa and overseas domestic worker visa “must be a key consideration for a future government”. 

The letter was signed by the special rapporteurs on contemporary forms of slavery, on the human rights of migrants, and on trafficking in persons, as well as the chair-rapporteur of the working group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

A government spokesperson said: “The seasonal worker route has been running for five years, and each year improvements have been made to stop exploitation and clamp down on poor working conditions while people are in the UK.

“We have a set of published requirements for organisations holding a sponsorship licence which make clear that those who benefit directly from migration are responsible for ensuring the immigration system is not abused. We will always take decisive action where we believe abusive practices are taking place or the conditions of the seasonal workers route are not met.” 

Bureau of Investigative Journalism 29th May 2024: Government expanded visa scheme weeks after UN raised alarm over people trafficking

Original Source: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism by By Emiliano Mellino  and Holly Bancroft – 29th May 2024

Experts wrote to David Cameron in March warning that workers on a UK farm could be victims of modern slavery

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Some migrant farm workers on a UK government visa scheme were allegedly trafficked to the country, according to United Nations human rights experts.

In a letter sent to David Cameron, the UK’s foreign secretary, four UN special rapporteurs said the government knew that workers were at risk of exploitation and its oversight of the farms had been “insufficient”. Weeks after receiving the letter, the government extended the scheme until 2029.

The letter detailed how migrant workers have reportedly been deceived about working and living conditions, and had faced abuses including discrimination, mistreatment, wage theft, low salaries and punishment for not meeting targets. 

The laws and practices around the visa scheme made seasonal workers particularly vulnerable to exploitation, the experts said. They added that systemic change was needed.‘The appalling treatment of migrant workers verges on modern-day slavery’

“Given the conditions reported to us, we are concerned that [regulatory] entities do not appear to have taken timely and adequate action,” read the letter, which was sent in March and made public in mid-May.

Labour MP John McDonnell said overseas workers are among the most exploited people in the farming sector. He called for urgent protections for them.

“[Migrant workers’] exploitation and the appalling treatment they receive at the hands of often brutal, profiteering employers verges on modern-day slavery,” he said. “We urgently need comprehensive, strong legislation and enforcement to tackle this stain on our economy.”

Much of the UN experts’ letter focused on allegations of underpayment and poor working conditions at Haygrove Ltd, one of the UK’s biggest fruit producers, and Fruitful Jobs, one of the government-licensed recruiters for the visa scheme.

Last year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) reported allegations that Latin American workers employed at Haygrove had not been paid for all the hours they had worked, had been punished by being denied work and had faced bullying on the farm. One person had been physically assaulted by a supervisor, colleagues said. 

About 90 Haygrove workers staged a wildcat strike and some were told by the managing director of Fruitful Jobs that if they continued to protest, their visas would be revoked.

Read more stories in this project:

‘All that is missing is a whip’: Home Office ignored migrant worker abuses on farms

‘It’s almost the same as living on the street’: this is how people picking your vegetables have to live

UK government ‘breaching international law’ with seasonal worker scheme, says UN envoy

Watchdog criticises Home Office for dropping farm worker visa review

Haygrove told TBIJ at the time that it rejected all allegations of wrongdoing in the “strongest terms” and had found no evidence of any mistreatment by supervisors. Fruitful Jobs said the managing director had been trying to resolve the issues with the workers.

The Home Office believes that four of the workers at Haygrove could have been victims of modern slavery, according to the UN experts’ letter.

They wrote that, based on the information they had received, these people would fall under the definition of victims of trafficking.

The experts also sent letters to Haygrove and Fruitful Jobs. They asked for clarification on what was being done to protect workers and called for compensation for those who had been victims of modern slavery.

The UN officials said they had received reports that Haygrove had promised people future work in order to “prevent them from reporting the labour exploitation suffered at the farm”.

The workers had been referred to the government’s scheme designed to support modern slavery victims, known as the national referral mechanism (NRM). In some cases, though, they were not receiving help with housing, mental health, healthcare or repatriation, according to the special rapporteurs.

One of the workers, who subsequently went to London, has “reportedly been deceived and abused by UK citizens who have employed him for small jobs without paying him”, the letter said. 

In a response published last week, the government said it would not comment on individual allegations. It said licensed recruiters, known as “scheme operators”, are responsible for placing workers on farms and ensuring their welfare. Failure to comply with rules could result in the recruiters losing their sponsor licence. 

The government also acknowledged that decision making on the NRM was slow, but said a new compliance team had been established to monitor the seasonal worker visa. 

It said 1,116 workers were interviewed at 144 farms in the 2022-23 season. That figure represents a decline in the number of workers interviewed at each farm, from an average of 44 in 2021 and 2022 to just under eight, according to inspection reports seen by TBIJ.

After being contacted by TBIJ, Haygrove and Fruitful Jobs sent separate responses to the UN letter. Haygrove chairman Angus Davison wrote that the allegations were “materially incorrect” and gave a “false impression” that there were systemic issues “akin to labour exploitation or modern slavery” in how the company treated its workers in the UK. 

Nearly 90 workers from Chile, Peru and Bolivia joined the unofficial strike at Haygrove

He said that workers are fully informed about the terms and conditions of their employment and are paid at least the national living wage, with legal deductions for accommodation offsets and wage advances only.

Davison said that Haygrove would be paying workers for the time they spent travelling between company sites as “a goodwill gesture” in 2024.

He said the farm offered future employment opportunities “not [as] a means to silence complaints but to provide continued work for those who wish to return”.

Responding to the UN special rapporteurs, Fruitful Jobs said it “strongly refutes any allegations”. It said its recruitment process was open, transparent and complied with minimum wage legislation. It said it took the issues around the experience of workers at Haygrove seriously and works closely with farms to provide workers with a formal complaints mechanism.

The seasonal worker visa scheme was introduced in 2019 to address labour shortages in the agricultural sector, which were expected to be exacerbated by the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The scheme has been rapidly expanded from an initial 2,500 workers coming in the first year, to more than 30,000 in 2023. This month, the government announced that the scheme would continue to be extended until 2029.

The letter was signed by Tomoya Obokata, the special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gehad Madi, the special rapporteur on human rights of migrants, and Siobhán Mullally, the special rapporteur on trafficking in persons. It was also signed by Robert McCorquodale, the chair-rapporteur of the working group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Additional Reading:

See also Independent 2nd June 2024: Vulnerable workers coming to UK in post-Brexit deal at risk of bullying and sexual harassment, report finds

BHRRC 23rd May 2024: UK – Leading supermarkets asked to meet costs of implementing the Employer Pays Principle across supply chains by civil society group (see 9th May 2024 below); incl. company responses

Bloomberg 22nd May 2024:  Fruit Picker Who Said Her Hands Bled From Work Sues UK Employer

Seasonal Worker Scheme Taskforce Update 17th May 2024: SWS Taskforce update on Employer Pays Principle study

GROCER 10th May 2024: SOURCING Workers’ groups call on supermarkets to pay seasonal labour fees – The groups said there are risks farmers will be unable to comply to new rules

Guardian 9th May 2024: UK Government says employers may be required to pay travel and visa costs for people getting seasonal worker visas

9th May 2024: Landworker’s Alliance and Allies call for UK supermarkets to pay recruitment related fees and costs for migrant workers

April 30th 2024: BBC World –England again employs seasonal fruit pickers from Indonesia (translation)

The Grocer 30th Apr 2024: Growers brace for up to £90m in additional seasonal worker costs in UK in move towards internationally compliant zero cost responsible recruitment model for vulnerable migrant workers

3rd April 2024: Financial Times (London) UK employment – Britain’s seasonal worker scheme leaves many migrants in debt, research finds

3rd April 2024: Independent – Migrant fruit pickers saddled with debts of up to £5,500 to come to UK through government scheme

26th January 2024: UK Seasonal Worker Scheme Modern Slavery Issues: Indonesian seasonal fruit pickers landed in debt bondage challenges Home Office

26th Jan 2024: ATLEU – UK government fails to protect workers from trafficking and exploitation

26th Jan 2024: ATLEU – Challenge to government’s Seasonal Worker Scheme

25th Jan 2024 Home Office: UK government survey on experiences of seasonal workers scheme confirms the exceptionally high levels of issues (confusion, fees etc) faced by Indonesian and Nepali workers in 2021/2022

24th Jan 2024: ATLEU – Seasonal worker recognised as a potential victim of trafficking

20th Jan 2024 Independent: Migrant fruit picker may have been modern slavery victim under Home Office scheme, government finds

12th January 2024: UK government ‘breaching international law’ with seasonal worker scheme, says UN envoy

2nd Dec 2023 Independent: Nepali Migrant fruit picker who ‘struggled to buy food after being underpaid by British farm’ sues employers

FLEX 6th Nov 2023 – FLEX on the House of Lords Horticultural Committee report

6th Nov 2023: UK government complicit in exploitation of farm workers – Bureau of Investigative Journalism

FLEX 26th Oct 2023 – Seasonal Workers’ Rights; Who’s Responsible?

25th Oct 2023: DEFRA Former Secretary – Seasonal Worker Scheme should be taken away from Home Office to prevent continued abuses.

20th Sept 2023: Worker interest groups’ statement on leaving the UK ‘Seasonal Worker Scheme Taskforce’.

27th July 2023 Maplecroft: UK’s Seasonal Worker Scheme Raising Human Rights Concerns in the Food Sector.

21st July 2023: Vulnerable UK migrant workers at risk as audits of farm recruiters stall

23rd June 2023 – ‘They’re afraid’: Seasonal farm workers in the UK face poor conditions and visa hurdles.

17th March 2023 BHRRC Blog Series: UK Seasonal Worker Scheme Endangers Vulnerable Foreign Workers. (My Op Ed) 

16th March 2023: Labour agencies to face supermarket scrutiny over foreign worker exploitation claims in UK seasonal worker scheme.

11th March 2023: ‘UK Seasonal Workers Scheme Taskforce’ to fund audits to prevent worker exploitation.

23rd February 2023: Farm workers on UK seasonal visas to be guaranteed 32 hours a week

Other stories on challenges of UK seasonal worker scheme

1. Working in the UK: Hundreds of Indonesian Citizens Escape, More Than 1,200 Workers from Indonesia Threatened to Cancel (BBC, 16th Feb 2023)

2. AG Recruitment, UK recruiter of debt-hit Indonesian and Nepali migrant workers, loses seasonal workers scheme license following forced labour related allegations, worker abscondments and asylum claims (Guardian, 10th Feb 2023)

3. Indonesian former fruit pickers become illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK – ‘This is the easiest shortcut’ (BBC, 26th Jan 2023)

4. Home Office accepts recommendations in Chief Inspector’s report on immigration system as it relates to the agricultural sector (Freeths, 16th Jan 2023)

5. Immigration: Investors warn food companies about risk of forced labour on UK farms (Financial Times 19th Dec 2022)

6. Investor statement on the UK Seasonal Worker Scheme (Public Investor Statement 19th Dec 2022)

7. Hundreds of Indonesian fruit pickers in UK seek diplomatic help  (Guardian, 2nd Dec 2022)

8. Seasonal worker visa puts migrants at risk of exploitation, say supermarkets (Guardian, 2nd Dec 2022)

9. Seasonal fruit pickers from Nepal left thousands in debt after being sent home early from UK farms (Guardian, 13th Nov 2022)

10. Indonesia to investigate claims fruit pickers in UK seasonal agricultural workers scheme charged thousands to work in Kent (Guardian, 29th Aug 2022)

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