The Clewer Initiative launches app to tackle modern slavery in rural areas
The Farm Work Welfare App (FWWA) is a new tool to help rural employers tackle labour abuse and modern slavery in the farming, horticulture and food production sector. The launch of the app, which has been developed by The Clewer Initiative, will coincide with the summer harvesting season when there is huge pressure on the rural labour market and increased movement of workers.
The sector has long been the target of exploiters and traffickers but it is feared the number of modern slavery victims could soar this summer as UK farmers struggle to recruit the pickers they need to bring in the harvest and criminal gangs seek to exploit this gap.
The app is intended to become a standard part of the ‘recruitment pack’ for farm workers in future seasons, particularly post-Brexit. It will provide farmers and growers with guidance to help them strengthen their recruitment processes and prevent labour abuse and exploitation within their operations. It offers practical information and signposting on existing protections such as the GLAA Licensing Scheme, document verification and the rights of workers such as freedom of movement and right to work.
For pickers, it is designed to help them understand their rights and know what they can expect from this type of work. As well as encouraging best practice, the app will offer supplementary information about labour exploitation and warning signs to look for from an employer, victim and co-worker perspective.
Building on the success of The Clewer Initiative’s Safe Car Wash app, the Farm Work Welfare App contains a reporting tool to enable farmers or workers to flag up concerns, suspicions or seek help. The information gathered will be processed by the Modern Slavery Helpline and help identify hot spots, enable criminal investigations and most importantly, victim support.
Bishop Alastair Redfern, former Bishop of Derby and Chairman of The Clewer Initiative, explains: “Unfortunately, the normal pressures faced by the farming, horticulture and food production industries have been exacerbated by restrictions on movement due to the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit. It’s a perfect storm and criminal exploitation often increases when sectors suffer shortages of workers. While it is hard to get exact numbers on the scale of this type of slavery, we believe it is growing in line with the overall increase in modern slavery. Last year, the Modern Slavery Helpline received a 25 per cent increase in calls and submissions. In England, labour exploitation accounted for 73% of reports and every call represents an individual whose life has been destroyed by criminal gangs.
“Victims of modern slavery are kept by highly-organised, ruthless criminal gangs in remote locations and farmers may not always spot the signs of exploitation. That is why we have developed the Farm Work Welfare App - we want to provide a resource for both farmers and workers to help them navigate the challenges of seasonal worker recruitment and thwart the criminal networks.
“For pickers who may not be familiar with UK worker rights, the app will provide vital information on what they can expect and is available in eight languages.”
The Farm Work Welfare app was commissioned and funded by The Clewer Initiative and developed in partnership with the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the National Crime Agency (NCA), the Fresca Group, the Modern Slavery Helpline (MSH)/Unseen UK, National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Church Commissioners for England.
Rob Richardson, Head of Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking at the National Crime Agency, said: “Tackling modern slavery is one of our highest priorities, and we are determined to work with partners like The Clewer Initiative to pursue offenders and protect victims. The public are the eyes and ears the NCA needs to bring justice to offenders, and we believe the FWWA app will be key in combatting modern slavery in rural areas.
“It will help farmers, growers and workers know what ‘good’ looks like and will promote worker welfare and well-being. It will also help users report any concerns at the touch of a button. People don’t have to be certain that abuse or exploitation is happening, they can simply report anything they may have noticed that is not quite right or makes them feel unsure about someone’s safety.”
Detective Superintendent Sheon Sturland, Unit Commander, at the National Police Chiefs Council Modern Slavery & Organised Immigration Crime Unit, said “Modern Slavery is a crime often hidden in plain sight, it is vital we continue to work with partners, such as The Clewer initiative, to both raise awareness of Modern Slavery within our communities and provide advice and support to those who may need it. This app is a valuable tool that will help workers understand their rights and employers to find licensed labour providers, which together should help prevent exploitation. The app is available in eight languages and provides another way for people to report any concerns they may have”.
The app’s content has been translated into seven foreign languages - Albanian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Polish, Chinese (Mandarin) and Vietnamese.
It can be downloaded now from Google Play and iOS App Store.
For more information, visit https://www.theclewerinitiative.org/campaigns/the-farm-work-welfare-app
 The Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority Licensing scheme regulates businesses who provide workers to the fresh produce supply chain. The scheme ensures that businesses who supply workers (labour providers, gangmasters or agencies) and businesses who need workers (labour users, farmers, packhouses, factories) meet the employment standards that are required by law. See Notes to Editors