With the battle on against modern-day slavery following the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, we hear from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), which spearheads the fight when it comes to labour exploitation in horticulture production and packing, to find out about the newest weapon in its arsenal: The GLA Academy. Mark Heath, head of business change and development at the GLA, explains all to Produce Business UK
Businesses in the fresh produce industry have had their fair share of unwelcome attention in terms of investigations into labour practice. Now they need to get prepared and make sure they comply with all the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act.
Expertise and experience
To help, the GLA has launched its academy, essentially a Certificate in Professional Development: Investigating Modern Slavery in partnership with the University of Derby. “The GLA has been the driving force behind the concept and introduction of the new academy but we have been supported and assisted throughout by the University of Derby’s International Policing & Justice Institute,” explains Heath.
“Feedback from the industry in recent years made it clear they would welcome some guidance on how the GLA operates and performs its role. After working with the University of Derby to train our own staff, the seeds of ideas about the academy started to grow.
“We used our considerable expertise and experience gained from the years we have regulated labour supply in the fresh produce sector – coupled with the skills of the staff at the university – to provide what the industry had been asking for.”
The result of this work, which began at the beginning of 2015, is the alignment of the GLA Academy’s modules with the training given to GLA inspectors on how to identify non-compliance with licensing standards and worker exploitation.
“The university and the GLA were equally important in the academy idea getting off the ground,” says Heath. “The knowledge of the regulated sector, operational experience and stakeholder engagement side was provided by us, while the university brought expertise in investigative interviewing techniques and teaching. It also dealt with the formal qualification aspect to the course. This now fits in with the accreditation framework applied to other qualifications offered to students at Derby.”
And it is not just the GLA and the university that have worked together to set up the academy. “Throughout the planning and development phases for the academy courses the Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) was consulted and provided invaluable feedback,” says Heath. “We used the FPC as a sounding board to advise on the nature and extent of the training we were proposing as the process took shape and they have been useful and supportive throughout.”
The programme is a two-day course for a maximum of eight delegates and costs £500 per delegate. It is assessed by e-learning knowledge checks, demonstration of interviewing skills and the completion of a 1,500-word reflective portfolio with an action plan contextualised in the learner’s workplace environment. The first nine dates for the academy course in 2016 sold out within days of their announcement in November.
“The modules will be delivered jointly by lecturers from the university and an experienced GLA trainer, whose other role is as an enforcement officer, investigating claims of unlicensed labour provision and labour exploitation,” says Heath.
“We aim to provide attendees with an understanding of how the GLA approaches an inspection of a business and highlight the areas and aspects we concentrate on. We will give an insight, for example, into how we examine payroll, transport and accommodation and how we check workers are being treated in line with all relevant regulations and legislation.”
Section 54 compliance
Heath expects that the certificate will help retailers and other companies in the supply chain to meet their requirements as set out in section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act. “A business that is affected by the reporting provision in the act can demonstrate its desire and commitment to tackling exploitation in a number of ways, including the training of its staff,” he explains. “If employees undertake the accredited programme and learn how to identify and address non-compliance and exploitation within their operation, it allows the business to report on it accordingly.”
By signing up to the academy, businesses gain a better understanding of the issues GLA inspectors face and what they look for. “Companies that attend our courses can put their own checks and measures in place to tackle exploitation in supply chains,” says Heath. “Experience tells us that the last thing a criminal wants is for someone to start looking too closely into their operations and the way they work. By promoting, and helping to create, a supply chain that understands exploitation we are hoping to deter criminals. The question we want to pose to the unscrupulous gangmasters is: ‘Do you want to place workers into businesses that have learnt some of the methods utilised by the GLA and law enforcement partners?’”
The course has been targeted primarily at those who use and supply temporary labour within the GLA sector, such as compliance managers, contract managers, technical and field managers, labour coordinators, recruitment managers, ethical auditors, HR managers and training managers.
“However, there is no doubt that the ethical trading teams at the UK’s major retailers would find this training interesting and valuable and we have had some bookings from supermarkets,” adds Heath.
Looking ahead, the GLA is keeping a watching brief to identify any gaps in knowledge where it can help compliant businesses to thrive, as well as monitoring any emerging and developing trends in labour exploitation to consider whether it can develop ways to address these through additional training.