Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Fresh Produce Consortium

  1.  The Fresh Produce Consortium is the trade association that represents the interests of Retailers, Wholesalers, Importers and Packers of fresh fruit and vegetables and flowers in the United Kingdom.

  2.  We have since 1999 been involved in a number of voluntary initiatives designed to ensure that Gangmasters, their sub-contractors and the workers they supply are managed in such a manner that all their activities are brought within the current legislative framework. The most significant of these initiatives was the production by us of "Temporary Packhouse Labour—FPC Guide, First Edition 2000".

  3.  This publication was prepared with the support of Joyce Quinn MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for MAFF at that time, and officials in a number of government departments. Since its publication it has been supported by the major supermarkets and extensively used in the UK packing operations supplying these supermarkets.

  4.  In December 2001 we asked the Agricultural Investigation Team to prepare a report for us on how they saw the Gangmaster situation at that time. We agreed with the conclusion of the AIT that "Guidance and advice have had little effect, perhaps it is now time for legislation".

  5.  It was for this reason that we were very supportive of the establishment of the Ethical Trading initiative Working Group on Gangmasters. This is a cross-industry group established to explore the feasibility of developing a licensing and registration scheme for Gangmasters.

  6.  Representatives of the Working Group met with Beverly Hughes MP, Minister of State for the Home Office and Lord Whitty, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for DEFRA on 11th March this year (see attached briefing note). The specific objectives of this meeting were:

  6.1  To propose that a code of practice for the providers of temporary labour (Gangmasters) be developed.

  6.2  To propose that legislation be passed to enable the statutory registration of providers of temporary labour.

  7.  The outcomes of the meeting were:

  7.1  Government assistance to determine if competition rules may prevent the establishment of a voluntary system for the registration of Gangmasters.

  7.2  Government assistance with the development of a code of practice for Gangmasters.

  7.3  Development of a programme of voluntary implementation of the code of practice including the procedure for independent verification of compliance with the code.

  7.4  Preparation of a "tool kit" designed to assist Gangmasters wishing to secure compliance with the code.

  7.5  Identification of Gangmasters willing to trial the code.

  7.6  Exploration of the merits of establishing a trade association for Gangmasters.

  7.7  Agreement to meet Beverley Hughes and Lord Whitty to review progress in six months time.

  8.  We welcome these positive outcomes from the meeting but are firmly of the opinion that if the problems relating to Gangmasters are to be effectively tackled, voluntary initiatives must now be superseded by government legislation that allows the statutory registration of Gangmasters.

28 April 2003

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