Memorandum submitted by The British Retail
Consortium (BRC) (V2)
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) represents
the whole range of retailers including large multiples, department
stores and independent shops, selling a wide selection of products
through centre of town, out of town, rural and virtual stores.
In December 2001, the retail sector employed some 2.8 million
people (11% of the workforce) and retail sales were £221
billion in 2001. Grocery retailing is significant in macro economic
terms and was valued in June 2001 at £103 billion.
1. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) welcomes
the opportunity to comment on the Environment Food and Rural Affairs
Select Committee's inquiry into the activities of "gangmasters"
in the agricultural and horticultural industries.
2. The BRC understands the reasons why primary
producers' use of gangmasters is a necessity as casual labour
is crucial to the timely harvesting of many crops. While most
employment agencies operate entirely within the law, food retailers
share the concerns that have been raised about some operators
who have been found to have employed illegal immigrants and benefit
claimants, and who have failed to comply with the requirements
of the Working Time Directive and the National Minimum Wage.
3. While the sector does not have the resources
to act as a food chain policeman checking the validity of documents,
food retailers have typically introduced procedures designed to
prevent the use of illegal practices within their supply systems.
Such procedures include:
(i) The use of "Supplier Approvals."
These are designed both to assess the technical capability of
a supplier and the "responsibility" of a supplier in
a wider sense.
(ii) Specifications and Terms and Conditions
require retail suppliers to adhere to all UK and EU legislation.
(iii) Many retailers also regularly remind
their produce suppliers of their obligations under employment
legislation, including the need for them to play a role in ensuring
that illegal labour is not used (by checking National Insurance
Numbers, Work Permits, etc).
(iv) Many food retailers are carrying out
social assessments of suppliers (often based on the Ethical Trading
Initiative Code); part of these assessments cover Health and Safety
and Working Time Directive requirements.
(v) Food retailers may require that their
suppliers use only agencies "approved" by the Department
of Trade and Industry when sourcing overseas casual labour. All
such suppliers are required to pay at least the minimum agricultural
wage as determined by the Agricultural Wages Board.
4. The BRC recognises that there are sometimes
acute shortages for seasonal and casual labour that can only be
filled by using casual staff. While the accession of Central and
Eastern European Countries may improve the situation in the future,
this is an area where Government can play a major role in ensuring
that sufficient labour is available and regulations are adhered
to. This requires inter-departmental co-operation and action.
5. The Committee will wish to note that
within the fresh produce sector, a number of initiatives have
developed to address the issue of illegal employment practices,
with main ones being the Fresh Produce Consortium and National
Farmers' Union codes. The Ethical Trading Initiative has established
a working group to look at the issues in this area and is made
up of a wide range of stakeholders including retailers, trade
unions, the NFU, Defra, the Home Office and the ETI.
9 April 2003