Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday, 3 April 2004

The sordid underbelly of British society

This is the part of our society most of us only get to hear about (and most of us turn our eyes away in discomfort when it impinges on our comfortable lives) when something awful happens - the recent Morecambe Bay 'cocklers' disaster, for example.

Three gangmasters have been jailed for money-laundering; over 33 months their business generated in excess of GBP4 million and their personal 'take' was around GBP1 million. Without saying so directly, there has been much insinuation in the media that most of this wicked business of dealing in illegal workers (mainly foreigners whose immigration status means they are unlikely to complain) is organisied by other foreigners, but this case gives the lie to this - two of those jailed are British.

Next time you shop in your supermarket for fresh fruit or vegetables, think for a second how it is procured and how it can be sold for such relatively low prices. The truth is, it is not just the supermarkets which rake in profits - we, as consumers, do as well and of course the gangmasters of the kind exposed in this case also take their share. Naturally this is not just a problem in the UK - it exists in most countries whose agricultural industries rely on large numbers of imported and often clandestine labour. Really what needs to happen is that the punishments for hiring of illegal labour should be much more draconian than they are at present, but at the same time western governments need to 'get real' and explain the facts of life to their pampered citizens and have a much more open and honest system of recruiting foreign workers who can then be paid openly and honestly by those employing them. Excessive profits by intermediaries, whether employers or labour recruiters and retailers need to be exposed - but for the consumer there also needs to be a realisation that prices to them will probably have to rise somewhat as well. None of us is without guilt in this matter. (PS/ for middle class folks, like me, if you hire a foreign domestic worker who is not legally in your country, so avoiding social charges, then you are just as guilty - remember that if you are tempted to deny any personal responsibility. Or if you emply someone as a 'nanny', but treat that person merely as a domestic 'skivvie')

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