GLAA warns group cockle picking on Kent coast
17th September 2020
A group of Chinese cockle pickers collecting shellfish on the Kent coast have been warned by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) about the dangers of acting as potential unlicensed gangmasters.
GLAA officers together with Kent Police and Kent and Essex Inshore and Conservation Authority (IFCA) conducted the disruption exercise at Sheerness on the evening of Monday September 14.
While no specific modern slavery or labour exploitation offences were identified by the GLAA, the pickers were warned about gathering shellfish illegally for commercial use in addition to the unlicensed gangmaster concerns.
Twenty kilograms of shellfish were also removed by IFCA and the pickers were reminded of the health and safety risks of cockles unfit for human consumption entering the food chain.
Anyone supplying workers into the shellfish sector requires a GLAA licence by law. Licence holders are inspected by the GLAA to ensure they are meeting the authority’s licensing standards which cover pay, working conditions and safety.
Any unlicensed activity will be investigated by the GLAA, with the maximum penalty for breaches of the legislation being 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Jennifer Baines said: “This proved to be a successful disruption exercise investigating allegations of unsafe and illegal activity on the Kent coast. Our officers visited the beach the following day and the pickers were nowhere to be seen despite the low tide, which suggests that our approach had the desired effect.
“In recent months, we have seen an increase in intelligence relating to shellfish gathering, not only in Kent and the south-east of England, but across the whole of the UK. This is something we are taking extremely seriously and we have ramped up our UK-wide partnership activity in this sector over recent weeks.
“Labour exploitation and flagrant breaches of our licensing standards will simply not be tolerated under any circumstances by our team. This is an industry, above all others, where ignoring the most basic rules and regulations can have devastating consequences.
“Our partners will also take all necessary steps to ensure that any public health risks and environmental damage are quickly identified and addressed.”
Detective Sergeant Stacey Chapman of Kent Police’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking team said: “Tackling modern slavery and human trafficking is a shared responsibility and we work closely with the GLAA and other partners to help identify and protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
“The shellfish industry is one that can be prone to abuse by criminals, which is why operations of the kind carried out this week are so important. Nobody who works in this country should be made to feel trapped or abused by their employer, and we want people to know we are here for them and to have the confidence to report any offences to us.
“Fortunately the vast majority of organisations take good care of their workers, although we will not be complacent and will continue to visit those we consider at risk of exploitation to ensure they are fully aware of the support available.”
Have you seen unsafe working practices and potential abuse of vulnerable workers on our coastlines? If so, please call 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.