Immigration Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by the british retail consortium ( brc ) (IB 48)

1. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is the trade association for the entire retail industry. Our members account for 80% of all UK retail sales. Diverse and exciting, our industry spans large multiples, independents, high streets and out of town, from online to bricks, selling goods across all sectors from clothing, footwear, food and homeware to electricals, health & beauty, jewellery and everything in between, to increasingly discerning consumers.

2. Our mission is to make a positive difference by advancing vibrant and consumer-focused retail. We stand for what is important to the industry and work in partnership with our members to shape debates and influence outcomes.

3. This evidence is only in relation to changes to labour market enforcement, specifically the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). It confirms our position as retailers, who are a key part of the supply chain for GLA-licensed sectors.

Labour Market Enforcement

4. As responsible retailers our members know their customers expect them to play a positive role in their supply chains, both in the UK and abroad. Our members have invested significant resources both with their suppliers and NGOs to ensure appropriate labour standards apply in their supply chains. However, alongside our own investment in auditing and training we know that tackling these issues requires a partnership approach with Government intervention and effective enforcement being a key part.

5. We lobbied for the Transparency in Supply Chains clause of the Modern Slavery Act and the creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). Alongside this, our members have supported the Supply Chain Protocol signed with the GLA and other supply chain representatives to ensure rapid dissemination of intelligence to identify and tackle suspected abuses. Our members are also key supporters of the Stronger2gether initiative, which is designed to reassure victims of forced labour that they will be safe and well-treated when they report abuse.

6. Labour exploitation is an extremely complex area that transcends national boarders and sectors of the economy. Exploitation is inherently hidden and therefore very difficult for retailers to prevent or identify without sufficient support from Government. It is vital that Government implements and enforces laws that effectively prevent, identify and remedy instances of labour exploitation. We ask Government to:

a. Maintain the current licensing system for agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and food processing sectors

b. Ensure the GLA has sufficient resources to carry out its essential work

c. Expand the licensing system into sectors deemed to be of high risk of labour exploitation

d. Provide the GLA with powers needed to effectively tackle labour exploitation

7. These points align with the UK Government’s commitment to the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, which recognise States’ existing obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Role of Gangmasters Licensing Authority and licensing system

8. BRC and its members commend the efforts and achievements of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

9. Through its licensing scheme and co-ordinated approach with law enforcement bodies, the GLA has played an essential role in raising labour standards and preventing the exploitation of vulnerable workers in the UK food supply chain. It also acts to create a fair and competitive trading environment by granting licences to businesses operating in compliance with the GLA standard. This barrier to entry prevents rogue businesses from accessing the market and undercutting legitimate labour providers through worker exploitation, therein creating a level (and competitive) playing field.

10. We understand from research conducted by the Association of Labour Providers (ALP) that overwhelmingly GLA licence holders are in favour of licensing, perceive that the GLA is doing a good job and believe that it has improved conditions for workers.

11. However, labour exploitation occurs in more sectors than those currently covered by the GLA and its powers within the licensed sectors are limited. For example, when signs of modern slavery are identified by GLA inspectors they do not have the power to detain the offenders, help the victims or collect evidence.

12. We believe that a licensing regime is the best way forward and support the GLA in their mission. We support retaining the licensing system for the existing sectors covered by the GLA as well as support the expansion of the role and powers of the organisation proposed in the Labour Market Enforcement consultation. The GLA and other enforcement agencies have access to intelligence that is not available to businesses so the role enforcement agencies play is vital in tackling labour exploitation.

13. We do however have a concern that resources at the GLA are already stretched at a time when their role is only going to get tougher. It is essential that the GLA is sufficiently resourced to expand its work to protect workers. Reducing GLA inspections increases the burdens on retailers to carry out additional checks on suppliers.

14. In addition, whilst we support an expansion of GLA powers this should not dilute its existing work of monitoring and managing labour standards across the board.

 

November 2015

Prepared 18th November 2015