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Farm Worker Welfare App picks the good fight

Staff at the Lichfield Diocese Mothers' Union and Transforming Communities Together have endorsed a new app from the Clewer Initiative helping farmers and farm workers understand their rights and responsibilities and protect or report abuses relating to modern slavery.

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Due to its seasonal nature, and high numbers of workers moving between countries, it is a sector that is particularly vulnerable to people traffickers and modern slavery.

The Revd Nicola Busby, curate in the Mease Valley near Tamworth, and part of a farming family that employs many seasonal workers to pick and pack their strawberry and raspberry crops, describes the situation: "We're very seasonal, so through the winter months we're six on the payroll. In the spring that rises to 70 and in the peak picking season - June, July, August - we're over 200 hundred."

For good employers, like Busby Partners Ltd, two thirds of the seasonal staff are recruited directly, returning year after year from villages in Bulgaria and Romania in return for good wages and accomodation - the farm provides static caravans to share on site and recently relocated some to give more space around them, as well as providing communal recreation areas.

But for the remaining third, they depend on recruitment agencies, which is the weakest point in the exploitation of workers as demand for workers outweighs supply during the summer months and criminal labour exploitation often flourishes. Good ones, like the Busby's agents are specialists who interview potential employees and check documentation before travelling. rapidly changing rules and understanding foreign methods make workers particularly vulnerable to abuses.

Debbie Huxton recently began a new role as a modern slavery campaigner, funded by the Mothers Union in the diocese. She said:
"It's so important that they [farmers and workers] have up-to-date information, and its so fast paced and fast changing that we want to be sure they have everything that they need to employ the workers, give the workers everything that they need. But we mustn't forget that farmers are humans too."

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The Farm Work Welfare App has been launched by the Clewer Initiative, to help both farmers and workers understand the current rules and the signs to look out for to promote worker welfare. It translates into eight languages including Albanian, Mandarin, Lithuanian and Vietnamese - and is available for Android phones and now Apple devices too. Like the Safe Car Wash App, it also contains a reporting tool. Farm businesses, workers or local people can use it to flag up concerns, suspicions or seek help. The information gathered will be processed by the Modern Slavery Helpline and help identify hot spots, enable criminal investigations and most importantly, support victims.

The Clewer Initiative works with the majority of the Church of England’s 42 dioceses and wider Church networks to develop strategies to detect modern slavery in their communities and help provide victim support and care, through either community-based projects and/or by sharing learning and knowledge. Their ultimate goal is a world without slavery.

Partnership is one of their core principles and we collaborate not only within the Church of England, but also with law enforcement, local government, charities, and wider faith networks. Their other significant app, the Safe Car Wash app, launched around the UK in 2018, including Bishop Michael donning his wellies at Lichfield Cathedral

Published 27th July 2020 & Updated 31st July 2020