GLAA ramps up UK-wide activity after sharp rise in shellfish intelligence
3rd September 2020
The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) is stepping up its enforcement activity on UK coastlines in response to a significant increase in allegations of unsafe working conditions and labour exploitation in shellfish gathering.
Investigations are ongoing involving the GLAA and partners across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland after the authority saw a noticeable rise in intelligence linked to cockle picking during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Shellfish reports now account for almost one quarter of total referrals to the GLAA. While not all of them relate directly to labour exploitation, there are clear concerns about the safety of potentially vulnerable and exploited workers who are unaware of the dangers of shellfish gathering.
The GLAA is sadly only too well aware of the risks of unsafe and illegal shellfish gathering, having been created following the tragic events of February 5 2004, when 23 Chinese cockle pickers exploited by an illegal gangmaster drowned off the coast at Morecambe Bay.
Formed initially as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, the agency was handed a remit to regulate businesses providing workers into the fresh produce supply chain, including shellfish gathering.
Anyone illegally supplying workers into GLAA-regulated sectors could face prosecution and a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Jennifer Baines said: “Shellfish gathering will always remain a high priority for us as an organisation because of the tragedy at Morecambe Bay 16 years ago and our commitment to do everything in our power to prevent a similar disaster ever happening again.
“While we are pleased that the public remains aware of the problem, we are concerned by the increase in reports that we have received over recent months and the risk of labour exploitation, damage to the environment and most of all the threat to life this activity brings if it is not done safely.
“If you’re picking cockles for family and friends, I would ask you to abide by the regulations and ensure that what you are collecting is fit for human consumption. There are restrictions on how much you can collect for personal use and I’d also urge you to be aware of the risk to life of fast moving tides and quicksand.
“Please continue to be vigilant and get in touch with us if you’ve seen or have any information about unsafe cockle picking, no matter how small or insignificant you consider it to be. Your call could help put an end to unsafe working practices on our country’s coasts and the exploitation of vulnerable workers.”
You can report your concerns by calling the GLAA’s intelligence team on 0800 4320804 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.