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Temporary workers and corporate responsibility

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Related tags: Del monte

As ever more food companies find themselves in the position of
having employed migrants who were mistreated by illegal labour
providers, it may be time for firms to start taking more
responsibility for the temporary workers many of them rely on.

Only last week, the UK Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA), a governmental body set up to curb the exploitation of workers, alleged that a gangmaster - otherwise known as a labour provider - was exploiting workers he supplied to three food firms in the country. And we're not talking about small or insignificant companies either. Those in question - British Bakeries, Thorntons and Florette - are three of the biggest providers of bread, chocolate and salad respectively in the UK. According to the GLA, the gangmaster was keeping several workers in his care in cramped conditions, with uncertified electricity and gas provisions. The authority also claims that he was illegally paying the workers less than the minimum wage for their work. This particular gangmaster has quite rightly now had his license revoked, but the three companies are in the clear, because at the time of hiring he was still in possession of a legal license. These kinds of cases are not exclusive to Europe, as last year's raids on factories belonging to Del Monte, Tyson and Smithfield in the US demonstrated. In the case of Del Monte, a number of workers at the company were arrested during the raids last June for having social security numbers that belonged to other persons or that were made up. However, the workers in question were officially employees of American Staffing Resources. Yet again, therefore, it was this "commercial staffing firm",​ and not Del Monte, that was investigated by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But the question still lingers: is it right that companies are apparently blameless in these situations? According to the GLA spokesperson Tim Carter, food firms are "encouraged"​ to make basic checks on their workforce, such as checking their pay slips for any anomalies, or keeping an eye out for extreme fatigue or poor health. However, these checks are not a legal requirement, so some food companies may be tempted to 'pass the buck' in terms of looking after their temporary workers, expecting regulators to deal with the problem of their welfare. It's a well known fact that the food industry relies more than others on temporary and seasonal workers, with some authorities estimating that they provide as much as 25 per cent of the global food workforce. And as globalisation and the growth of the European Union continue, this figure is likely to rise. So turning a blind eye to these temporary workers is no longer an option in today's business environment. For one thing, the ethical practices of companies are coming under the spotlight. Firms are now pressured into revealing all about sustainability and CO2 emissions, so surely it is only a matter of time until employee situations also start to be probed. There is also a strong business argument in that firms have to sell the products made, packaged or processed by food workers, and that tired or mistreated people will not perform their tasks as well as those who are healthy. Indeed, corporations are already starting to realise there is a link between employee wellbeing and productivity. The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) told attendees at the Expo West trade show this month that companies are increasingly promoting health and wellness initiatives for their workers. With 80 per cent of people in the US saying they don't have enough energy to do what they want to do, the message is sinking in that better health and wellness means better productivity. It therefore makes a lot of sense for food companies to look after their temporary workforce - it seems that both their reputations and their profit margins could be at stake. Charlotte Eyre is the editor of Confectionerynews.com and Bakeryandsnacks.com. She has lived and worked in the UK and France. If you would like to comment on this article, please e-mail charlotte.eyre'at'decisionnews.com

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