Compliant workforce key to ensuring an ethical and protected business

Adrian McCourt from Diamond Recruitment Group explains how agri-food businesses can best protect their workers, ensuring compliance with ethical standards and maintaining public trust in Northern Irish food producers.

Jan 20, 2017

September of last year, household brands such as Tetley’s, Twinings and Yorkshire Tea received a rude awakening to serious breaches of ethical standards in their supply chain. A BBC investigation revealed plantation owners in north-east India, who are obliged to provide adequate housing and sanitation for tea workers, were found to be providing homes in disrepair and in unsanitary conditions. Most worryingly, there were suggestions child labour might have been used in some plantations.

Whilst all three companies acted quickly to initiate internal investigations into their supply chain management, the damage was already done. Food producers place trust in their supply chain partners to maintain standards and in this case whilst the ethical breaches were conducted by plantation owners in north-east India, Tetley’s, Twinings and Yorkshire Tea bore the responsibility and the reputational damage.

Global problem, local impact

Unfortunately it is too easy to assume cases such as this are confined to developing countries when in fact there are disturbing examples much closer to home. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority – the regulatory body overseeing providers of temporary workers to the agri-food sector in the UK – recently arrested a man who trafficked and exploited three Romanian men working as apple pickers in a County Armagh orchard. These men were made to sleep in an outbuilding declared by Craigavon Borough Council as “unfit for human habitation” and were paid well below the minimum wage, receiving only £100 per week.

Combating labour exploitation is therefore an issue that local agri-food businesses take extremely seriously. As part of Staffline Group plc – the largest supplier of temporary works to the agri-food sector – Diamond Recruitment also takes this responsibility to protect workers to heart. Especially in the Year of Food and Drink, when Northern Irish produce is being celebrated and exported across the world, our goal is to protect workers and protect the public’s trust in Northern Ireland’s produce by maintaining the highest ethical standards.

So how can agri-food producers ensure compliance is much more than a tick box exercise for them? Maintaining ethical standards that exceed those set by our regulatory bodies is at the core of everything we do at Diamond Recruitment. We have comprehensive processes, checks and safeguards in place to ensure our workforce is eligible to work, is protected from potential exploitation, and is safe.

Maintaining ethical standards at Diamond Recruitment

From the moment a potential worker chooses to join Diamond the checks begin. These continue throughout the worker’s time with us. At the time of registration, the identification and ‘right to work’ checks are conducted. This ensures that the worker has control of their own documentation.

Interviews are completed face-to-face with the individual to ensure that they have freely chosen to attend. In addition, throughout the registration and interview process, all application forms are checked and verified as being the applicant’s own information. We also ask where they found out about Diamond and the role.

Worker education begins at the induction stage, giving an insight into labour exploitation. It explains why it is illegal in the UK and what the worker should do if they suspect it is happening to a colleague or they are a victim themselves. Every worker is shown the Stronger Together ‘Daniel and Weronika’ video and literature is available to all workers which includes contact details for the relevant authorities who can assist.

During their employment, regular checks are conducted on workers’ welfare in the form of surveys, worker interviews and site audits. Every day, we conduct background checks on all workers’ details through our central IT system. Everyone in the company is given the tools to identify the indicators of human trafficking and forced labour – our own ‘red flags’ document – and the reporting channels are very clear for any points of concern. As soon as an exploitation issue arises, it is urgently flagged to the appropriate authorities to investigate with the full co-operation of Diamond supporting throughout the case.

As supply chain partners for countless food producers and food suppliers, we are confident we have the right checks in place to minimise the risk labour exploitation taking place within our own supply chain.

Ethical practice for cross-border businesses

We are wholly committed to Compliance and Ethical Standards and strive to operate best practices at all times, even in jurisdictions where legislative standards are not as stringent, such as in the Republic of Ireland. As recruitment partners for several agri-food businesses across the island of Ireland, we also maintain these standards across jurisdictions where the Gangmasters Licensing Authority does not operate. By using the same operating procedures in the Republic of Ireland – the same IT systems, identifying the same ‘red flags’, and training all our staff to maintain ethical practice – we protect workers and the businesses who entrust us to maintain ethical standards in their supply chain.