BAPL calls for proper consultation concerning proposed SMETA changes


BAPL has called on SEDEX to pause its introduction of changes to its SMETA 7.0 standard. BAPL says that the proposed changes cannot be implemented or audited correctly, and risk food inflation of around 4-5p or more per pack of apples.

BAPL says that the new “employer pays principle” and credible living wage standards are aspirational and contrary to current Home Office and Defra interpretations of ILO guidance and our national law. This new standard has the potential to cause chaos and stress in fresh produce if introduced without appropriate consultation across the whole supply chain. In particular, there are serious implications for UK food price inflation and security.

SEDEX has interpreted ILO guidelines to mean that employers must pay for the recruitment related travel and visas of workers they employ on their farms. This would not only apply to workers coming from overseas via the seasonal worker scheme, but also any UK-based workers as well. This is contrary to usual UK employment practice and raises serious practical concerns. For example, seasonal workers often work on several different farms – as the picking seasons progress. In that situation, who would pay the upfront visa and travel costs? It would be unfair for that to fall solely to the first farm employer. If the upfront costs are split between different employers, how is it to be administered and managed? And ultimately how will these costs be funded by the supply chain?

BAPL is very concerned that the proposed SMETA standard 7.0 has not been properly thought through. Specifically, the changes are being pushed through without waiting for the Defra-funded impact assessment report on the employer pays principle, which is being conducted by the government’s seasonal worker scheme task force. Before that proper impact assessment has been completed there is no place for this new SMETA standard.

As things stand, some UK apple and pear growers are looking into alternative ethical audits that enable them to meet important retail requirements. They may also consider refusing to comply with this part of the SMETA audit until the Defra impact assessment report has been published.

In short, fact-based common sense needs to prevail. At the very least, this SMETA standard should not be implemented until Defra has completed its full assessment of the employer pays principle. Growers have estimated that paying the full travel and visa costs for seasonal workers would be equivalent to a 4-5p price increase in the cost of a pack of apples. Given the fact that apple and pear growers margins are already stretched to breaking point, these additional costs will have to be covered by retailers.

BAPL is asking all retailers to align and agree:

  1. That UK fresh produce suppliers are not expected to respond to the employer pays and credible living wage sections of the proposed SMETA standard 7.0 audit.
  2. That no action from producers is required if a “collaborative action required” is assigned by an auditor.

Read more about the audit burden facing UK apple and pear growers.

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