Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

SESSION 2002-03

18 September 2003


The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today published a report on gangmasters. Gangmasters provide gangs of casual labour to the agriculture and horticulture industry, mainly for picking crops and packing fresh produce. The report:

  • highlights that a significant number of gangmasters are involved in illegal activity including the non-payment of taxes; the employment of illegal workers from abroad, who are often housed in appalling conditions; and the flouting of employment legislation;

  • concludes that the Government has failed to provide sufficient resources and political leadership to confront the complex problems in the industry, and in particular describes its Operation Gangmaster, as "a woefully inadequate response"; and

  • notes that "the dominant position of the supermarkets in relation to their suppliers is a significant contributory factor in creating an environment where illegal activity by gangmasters can take root."

The Committee makes a number of recommendations, the most important of which is that Operation Gangmaster should be revitalised, put under the direct leadership of a Defra Minister, have its own budget, and be set clear aims and objectives. The Committee does not at this stage recommend a registration scheme for gangmasters. It suggests that without rigorous enforcement of existing legislation, such a scheme, offered as a stand-alone policy solution, would do little to prevent illegal activity by gangmasters.

The Committee also calls on the major supermarkets to re-examine their policies on the labour used by their suppliers and calls on the DTI to revisit the relationship between supermarkets and their suppliers.

The Committee welcomes the recent increase in media interest in the treatment of those working for gangmasters. It very much hopes that the excellent journalistic work which has exposed much illegal activity will continue.

Finally, the Committee has decided to return to this issue in Spring 2004 to monitor the action taken by the Government following its Report, and to assess whether there is need for further action.

On publication of the Report, the Chairman of the Committee, David Curry MP, said:

"Illegal activity by gangmasters is a critical issue for agriculture and for rural areas in general. It causes misery for those exploited, and it enables some producers to compete unfairly with those operating within the law. Furthermore, the Exchequer is losing huge sums in unpaid income tax and VAT. Yet the Government response to date has been piecemeal and inadequate.

"Responsibility does not just lie with the Government. The industry also has much to do if abuses of casual labour and other forms of illegal activity are not to become an integral part of the way fresh produce reaches our tables."



The Report follows an inquiry conducted between April and June 2003.  The terms of reference of the inquiry can be found in our Press Notice of 17 March 2003 (which is available on our website).

During the inquiry, the Committee took evidence from a range of interested bodies, including the Fresh Produce Consortium, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the National Farmers' Union, and Lord Whitty, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra.  In addition representatives of the Committee held private meetings with gangmasters in Cambridge and in London.

The full report will be available on our website, from around 3.30 pm on 18 September, at:


A press conference will be held at 11 am on Thursday 18 September in the Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House.