The Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority ("GLAA") is the UK's investigative agency for labour exploitation. It works with the police and other law enforcement authorities to protect workers suffering exploitation and poor working conditions. The prominence of its role is increasing given the focus on addressing modern slavery within UK workforces, and we know that it is actively investigating concerns in relation to non-payment of salaries, lack of annual leave entitlement and unsuitable working conditions.

Gangmaster Licensing

The GLAA operates a licensing scheme to regulate the provision of workers in various sectors, including agriculture. An employment agency, known as a "gangmaster", supplying workers in the agriculture sector must hold a GLAA licence. Acting as a gangmaster without a licence, or in breach of a licence condition, is a criminal offence under the Gangmasters (Licencing) Act 2004.

For estates and other agriculture-sector organisations, it is important to note that entering into an agreement with a gangmaster for the provision of workers where the gangmaster is unlicenced is also a criminal offence. A defence is available if the individual / organisation took all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the gangmaster held a valid licence. The steps taken should be carefully recorded in case an organisation is required to defend its position at a later date. The GLAA maintains a public register of licensed gangmasters; at a minimum we recommend checking this. They also provide a service where you can be updated about changes to a provider's licence.


Where a report is made to the GLAA around poor working conditions / potential unlicensed operations, GLAA officers have powers of investigation. These powers include the right to enter premises, ask questions and require the production of records. An organisation subject to a GLAA investigation should seek legal support throughout the process. Following an investigation, the GLAA has the power to modify or revoke licences.

Where the GLAA suspects that a criminal offence has been committed, it will carry out a criminal investigation often acting jointly with the police, including interviewing suspects under caution, before deciding whether to pursue a prosecution.


In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will decide whether to bring a prosecution. In the event that an individual or organisation is prosecuted and found guilty of a gangmaster-related offence, the potential sentences are imprisonment for a period of up to six months and a fine of up to £10,000.

Prosecution will also have a significant reputational and operational impact on an organisation. As a result, it is important for all organisations to take steps to ensure that any gangmasters they engage are licensed and are operating within the terms of their licence. Steps should also be taken to review worker conditions to ensure fair treatment including in relation to pay, annual leave and working conditions.


Ramsay Hall

Legal Director