Many South African growers supply citrus, pome fruit and grapes to UK retail members of the Ethical Trading Initiative, an organisation that supports companies to improve working conditions in their supply chains. The ETI is advising South African exporters that UK buyers will expect their local contacts to ensure there’s no forced labour on their farms. This follows the passing of the world’s toughest anti-slavery legislation, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act.

Any UK-based business turning over more than 36 million pounds must report at senior level on what they’re doing to identify and tackle the risk of recruiting and employing workers who have been trafficked, or are working under forced labour conditions.

ETI spokesperson Cindy Berman said many farms may not be aware that they were employing vulnerable workers. “The biggest risk factor in South Africa is contract labour employed on farms via contractor agencies. Even if a fruit producer doesn’t directly employ a worker whose employment conditions could fit within the UK definition of modern slavery, they will still be held responsible for that worker because their labour is used for the benefit of the farm or company.

“All major brands and retailers will be asking difficult questions of their suppliers over the next few months and years. All farms/companies must wake up to fact.”