Farm workers supplying Tesco, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer have exploited by recruitment agents under the seasonal worker visa scheme.
According to a joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Guardian, 150 Nepali workers who work at Corbey Farms in Herefordshire under the government scheme have been paying agents £3,000 to secure jobs in the UK.
Labour rights experts have described it as an “exploitative and extortionate” amount that go beyond flight and visa costs – and treading in illegal fees.
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Tesco and M&S which buy from Cobrey, have human rights policies in place that require their suppliers to ensure workers are not charged fees.
Currently both retailers have claimed they are urgently investigating the matter, with Tesco adding that any illegal fees would be refunded in full. However, the workers have said they have not been reimbursed.
A Waitrose spokesperson said they couldn’t comment on the case as it was still undergoing a live investigation – but it would “take whatever action” that was needed.
The seasonal workers pilot scheme was launched in 2019 in response to the potential effects of Brexit on harvesting labour shortages.
Under the scheme, workers should only pay a visa application fee of £259 and travel costs – meaning any additional recruitment fees are illegal under UK law.