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The groups said there are risks farmers will be unable to comply to new rules due to the challenges they are already facing

Workers’ rights groups have called on supermarkets to shoulder the costs of migrant workers, including their recruitment and travel fees.

The call follows proposals by the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) to absorb the International Labour Organization recommendations around the Employer Pays Principle (EPP), whereby no recruitment fees or related costs should be charged to or borne by workers.

Sedex is a standard widely backed by all major UK supermarkets, which demand growers are signed up to the scheme.

The Landworkers’ Alliance and its allies, Fair Square and migrant worker specialist Andy Hall, have welcomed Sedex’s recent adoption of the EPP as a “means to promote and ensure compliance with standards on decent work and to prevent forced labour”.

“We recognise that implementing the EPP for seasonal workers in the UK will require a significant financial outlay at a time of great uncertainty for the UK farming sector,” the organisations said. “We believe, however, that it should be the supermarkets, not farmers, who pay these costs.”

The group said there are risks farmers will be unable to comply due to the challenges they are already facing, or that complying will damage the economic viability of farms.

However, retailers “benefit from a greater proportion of the profits while shouldering less of the risk”.

Read more: Growers brace for up to £90m in additional seasonal worker costs

The NFU had called for a halt to the introduction of the new proposals from Sedex due to the logistical and financial challenges they posed.

The proposals are expected to cost up to £90m, and according to some sources could cost far more.

“We ask that the UK’s supermarkets, in conjunction with farmers and other suppliers, workers and trade unions, investors and civil society organisations, all work in partnership, including with the UK government, to swiftly develop a solution for sustainably implementing the EPP in the UK produce sector, across all immigration channels into the UK where workers are migrating for work, and in their global supply chains,” the group said.

This comes as the government’s response to John Shropshire’s report into labour said it would investigate the use of the EPP for the seasonal worker visa route.

Defra said it “would represent a significant step towards alleviating some of the financial burdens workers can incur in paying for their visas and travel to the UK”.

The government is working with the Seasonal Workers Scheme Taskforce to establish the workability of this within the supply chain.

The workers’ organisations welcomed the move by Defra but said any study should be carried out independently from the existing taskforce.