Agromenes

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

ASPECIAL rose has been planted this year in uni­ver­si­ties all over the north of Eng­land. In Hull, York, Manch­ester, Leeds and New­castle­upon-tyne, stu­dents have found an orig­i­nal way to high­light the con­tin­u­ing scan­dal of forced labour in Bri­tain. They’re right to do so.

Only last month, a civil or­der was placed on a car-wash op­er­a­tion in the West Coun­try, which is ac­cused of keep­ing its Ro­ma­nian work­ers in dis­grace­ful con­di­tions. Last year, a Kent­based cou­ple had to stump up £1 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion and le­gal costs for the six Lithua­nian work­ers they ex­ploited and there were rev­e­la­tions of beds sup­plied to John Lewis and Dunelm Mill be­ing made by a now de­funct com­pany in Dews­bury, West York­shire, that em­ployed slave labour.

It’s es­ti­mated that, at any one time, 13,000 peo­ple are be­ing abused in this way in Bri­tain, of­ten in agri­cul­tural work. This re­al­i­sa­tion led to the peachy-pink Mod­ern Slav­ery Rose be­ing bred by Colin Dick­son, who is the sixth gen­er­a­tion of his fam­ily firm in North­ern Ire­land to grow roses.

The idea started last year when the Mod­ern Slav­ery Gar­den won two awards at Chelsea, giv­ing birth to a cam­paign us­ing flow­ers to raise aware­ness of the plight of work­ers liv­ing in ap­palling con­di­tions and be­ing paid a pit­tance. It’s a mod­ern ver­sion of Josiah Wedg­wood’s great cam­paign to sup­port the anti-slav­ery move­ment. He made a medal­lion that you bought to show your sup­port and to pro­vide a dis­cus­sion point with your friends. It helped to make peo­ple aware of the evil of slav­ery and this new rose must do the same.

Ex­ploita­tion is all too easy and can reach into some of the most re­spected high-street names. Take eggs as an ex­am­ple. Peo­ple who care about an­i­mal wel­fare buy free-range eggs. They would be ap­palled to find that, un­til last year, they were in­ad­ver­tently con­tribut­ing to one of the worst forced-labour scams. Al­most ev­ery ma­jor food re­tailer ap­peared to have been caught out when the ac­tiv­i­ties of Dar­rell Houghton and Jacque­line Judge were re­vealed.

They were di­rec­tors of DJ Houghton, a chicken-catch­ing ser­vice that pro­vided labour to ma­jor pro­duc­ers of free-range eggs. The work­ers’ job was to catch the hens that were no longer lay­ing and the com­pany be­came a ma­jor provider, send­ing its mini­vans car­ry­ing the catch­ers to farms all over the coun­try.

The High Court found that they had not only failed to pay the na­tional min­i­mum wage, but had made un­law­ful de­duc­tions from their em­ploy­ees’ wages and had failed to pro­vide them with ad­e­quate fa­cil­i­ties in which to wash, rest and eat. The hu­man mis­ery be­hind this dry le­gal state­ment has re­sulted in suc­cess­ful claims for sig­nif­i­cant com­pen­sa­tion.

Sadly, the prob­lem is con­tin­u­ing in the farms and fac­to­ries of Bri­tain. When peo­ple speak of mod­ern slav­ery, they think im­me­di­ately of con­di­tions in the Far East or South Amer­ica, but it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly clear that we need to look at our­selves. In a coun­try with vir­tu­ally full em­ploy­ment, many jobs are spurned by all but the des­per­ate. These peo­ple, of­ten im­mi­grants from Asia and the poorer parts of the EU, or those with men­tal-health prob­lems, are vul­ner­a­ble pawns in the hands of men and women with­out con­science.

The Mod­ern Slav­ery Act 2015 was de­signed to beef up our pow­ers to deal with this, but, as the com­mis­sioner ap­pointed un­der its pro­vi­sions has shown, there’s still lit­tle ac­tion on the ground and the prob­lem is in­creas­ing. Mr Dick­son’s rose may only be a small sym­bol, but this cam­paign de­serves the sup­port of ev­ery coun­try­man. De­cent farm­ers and grow­ers should be the first to de­mand that these abuses end.

‘Peo­ple think of slav­ery in the Far East or South Amer­ica, but it’s clear that we need to look at our­selves

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