Safeguarding Migrant Workers’ Rights in the UK: Speaking with Experts

Image from webinar

 

By Annamaria De Felice  

In a recent open webinar hosted by Libera and moderated by James Fookes from Anti-Slavery International, a panel of experts and practitioners addressed the urgent issue of migrant workers’ rights in the UK, with a focus on the Seasonal Worker Scheme 

This discussion was directly interlinked with the recent communication from UN Special Rapporteurs to the UK Government regarding the treatment of seasonal farm workers; the importance of collaborative efforts between governments, businesses, and civil society organisations to address the root causes of migrant worker exploitation and implement sustainable solutions. 

The webinar began with Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur, stressing the necessity of action to address the vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers. His remarks underscored the importance of recognising both the State’s duty to protect and businesses’ duty to respect human rights, particularly within sectors like agriculture, where seasonal workers often face exploitation and abuse. 

Lucila Granada, CEO at FLEX, then shared insights into the realities of migrant workers on temporary visas who work in horticulture or poultry production across UK, revealing highly intensive work, poor conditions, and concerning instances of bullying and harassment. Drawing from their latest report, she shed light on the systemic challenges and barriers that migrant workers encounter in accessing justice and support. 

Our Senior Associate Solicitor from our Scottish Anti-Trafficking Centre, Anushya Kulupana, provided a unique perspective by highlighting the role of the law in upholding human rights standards. She stressed the importance of prioritising the well-being and rights of migrant workers, who so often are left to trafficking and exploitation. She pointed out that migrant workers, integral to many societies, deserve fundamental rights: access to justice, legal aid, international protection, and robust support systems to facilitate their journey towards rebuilding their lives. Anushya also explained the imperative role of the UK Government in safeguarding and upholding these essential rights.  

Claire Marcel, Head of Legal at United Voices of the World (UVW), echoed similar sentiments, highlighting the need for robust mechanisms to ensure accountability within the agricultural sector.  

Carolina Rudnick, Co-founder and President of Libera, closed the panel discussion by emphasising the urgent need for comprehensive policy reforms to safeguard migrant workers’ rights. She called for a multi-stakeholder approach involving governments, businesses, and civil society to develop and implement effective measures to prevent and address human rights violations in the agricultural sector. 

 

About the webinar
This discussion was particularly timely in light of recent developments reported by several media outlets including The Independent 

Just before the UK extended the seasonal worker visa scheme until 2029, experts from the UN raised serious concerns about how migrant workers on farms might be at risk of being exploited. These workers often come with debts and face exploitation such as being punished for not meeting targets, facing racial discrimination, and having to live and work in poor conditions. 

The webinar aimed to open a constructive dialogue in UK, bringing together experts and practitioners to confront the systemic injustices faced by migrant workers across the country and ensure decent working and living conditions for migrant workers are priorities for both farms and regulators.  

As experts stressed during the webinar, countries need to focus on protecting the rights of migrant workers, and businesses need to follow the international laws that protect human rights. These call to actions underline the urgency of addressing systemic issues within the agricultural sector across UK and implementing measures to protect migrant workers’ rights. 

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