The Clewer Initiative is an organisation that is enabling Church of England dioceses and wider Church networks to develop strategies to detect modern slavery in their communities and help provide victim support and care. 

It launched the Safe Car Wash App in 2018 and has now developed a Farm Workers Welfare App (FWWA) to help protect people who work in the agricultural sector. 

The Clewer Initiative believes that because of the industry shut-downs there has been an increase in vulnerable people looking for work in rural areas and this has pushed exploiters to move away from the industries they usually operate in and that criminal gangs are becoming increasingly active within the agricultural sector. 

Many farmers rely on third party recruitment agencies, or labour providers, to find seasonal workers and not all of these are legitimate or fair businesses. Across the UK, exploiters pose as legal labour providers, offering employers and farmers a ready supply of labour, while in fact they are forcing workers into jobs for little or no money. These highly organised, ruthless criminal gangs exploit the high demand for short term labour, often targeting migrant workers who may not be fluent in English or familiar with UK workers’ rights, making them more vulnerable to being coerced and controlled.

The app provides farmers and pickers with the information they need to avoid criminal organisations and navigate the challenges of seasonal employment. It contains lots of practical information and signposting on existing protections such as the GLAA Licensing Scheme[1], document verification and the rights of workers such as freedom of movement and right to work.

For pickers, it aims to help them understand their rights and what to do if they are being exploited. It also has a report function to encourage members of the public who live or work in rural areas to be alert to the signs of exploitation that may be in plain sight. Any 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 that’s why we are so keen to raise awareness of this innovative new app.”

The app can be downloaded from Apple and Android app stores and is available in Albanian, Bulgarian, English, Lithuanian, Romanian, Polish, Chinese (Mandarin) and Vietnamese.

Our ambition is that it will help everyone in the sector know what ‘good’ looks like and will become a key source of information on the recruitment of seasonal workers, particularly post-Brexit.

The App is available now from Google Play and will be available shortly on the iOS App Store.

[1] 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.

This story was posted on Friday 24th July 2020.