Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) (V10)

  1.  The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) aims to improve the lives of workers and their families that produce goods around the world that are sold in the UK. ETI is an alliance of businesses, trade unions and non-government organisations that work together in order to identify and promote good practice in the implementation of voluntary codes of labour practice. The aim of such codes is to ensure that suppliers to the UK market observe international minimum labour standards as defined by the International Labour Organisation. ETI company members also agree to implement these standards with their suppliers and to report annually on progress to other ETI members. ETI is an independent organisation funded by subscription fees and a grant from the Department for International Development. More detail on the ETI is given in Annex 1.

  2.  ETI members are very concerned about problems associated with the employment practices of agencies that provide temporary labour ("Gangmasters") to packers, producers and manufacturers in the UK food and agricultural industry. It is important to stress that ETI members are concerned about any lack of observance to UK employment law in their supply chains as well as issues related to the use of illegal labour or tax fraud. These issues are outlined in more detail in Annex 3.

  3.  In April and May 2002, ETI organised two consultative seminars to discuss problems and identify solutions related to the use of Gangmasters in the UK food and agricultural industry. Over 100 growers, packers, retailers, labour providers, trade unions and manufacturers attended. Despite this diversity a remarkable consensus was reached about the next steps required. Participants called for the establishment of a transparent and verifiable Gangmaster registration scheme that provides assurance to those contracting their services that each was a legal and responsible employer. A full report of these proceedings is available.

  4.  Following the consultation, the ETI convened a representative cross-industry working group with the principal objective of exploring the feasibility of a licensing and registration scheme for Gangmasters. Group members are listed in the table below. We are tasked to consider the merits of statutory and voluntary mechanisms to achieve this end and define the roles and responsibilities of all key stakeholders in the delivery of such a scheme. We were also asked to develop practical tools to enable Gangmasters who are willing to implement good practice. The full terms of reference of this Group are in Annex 2.

Organisation Representing/Function
Asda, The Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Safeway, Sainsbury, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose Retailers
Fresh Produce ConsortiumPackers, wholesalers, importers, retailers
National Farmers UnionGrowers
Trade Union Congress  
Transport & General Worker's Union Trade unions
Agricultural workers
Fusion personnelLabour provider perspectives
Ethical Trading InitiativeCo-ordination

  5.  The Group has worked closely with DEFRA and the Home Office (Work Permits UK) from the outset and officials from these departments attend the meetings and take an active part in the work. We liaise with the Department for Work and Pensions (Agricultural Investigation Team) and anticipate that their representatives will also be attending future meetings. DEFRA has recently seconded an official to work with the group in order to define a code practice for Gangmasters and a system for its independent verification. Whilst welcoming this move, the Group sees this as a stepping stone to a statutory register of Gangmasters, rather than a substitute.

  6.  Representatives of our group met with Beverley Hughes MP, Minister of State for the Home Office and Lord (Larry) Whitty, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for DEFRA on 11 March this year. We were keen to set out our agenda and open discussions about the need for primary legislation in order to enable an effective licensing system. We agreed to meet again with Ministers in about six months' time when we have a shared and more detailed view of how a registration scheme could be implemented in practice. One of the perceived difficulties with an entirely voluntary approach to the licensing and registration of Gangmasters, is that competition rules may prevent supermarkets from insisting upon the selection of verified labour providers. Government offered to assist us in clarifying this matter.

  7.  The inquiry has come too soon for us to offer definitive answers to your questions but we are focused on the following tasks in 2003:

    —  Draft, trial and disseminate a code of practice for Gangmasters.

    —  Define a system of implementation of the Code of Practice including independent verification of the observance of the Code of Practice by Gangmasters.

    —  Draft a good practice "tool kit" for Gangmasters.

    —  Identify Gangmasters willing to trial the code and explore the merits of a Gangmaster professional association.

28 April 2003

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