Ethics & ethos

Modern slavery statement

Preventing modern slavery

Providing fair and rewarding employment is part of Riverford’s purpose. From co-owners in our fields, to our packing and distribution teams, to our office workers, and people throughout our supply chain – we’re committed to working as hard as we can to ensure that the risks of modern slavery and human trafficking are reduced.

This statement puts together a transparent report on what we have been doing during the 2020/21 financial year to reduce the risks of modern slavery and human trafficking in our operations and supply chain.

What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is a crime that encompasses the many ways people can be exploited and forced to work for little or no pay – such as forced labour or forced marriage. Victims are controlled by force, threats, coercion, abduction, fraud and deception.

In 2016, up to 40.3 million people across the globe were estimated to be living in some form of modern slavery. Increased migration is making many people more vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation, with modern slavery being found in all industry sectors, from agriculture and fishing to domestic work.

The Asia and Pacific region has the highest prevalence of forced labour, at 4 victims per 1000 people (GSI, 2019), but no country in the world is free from modern slavery. Regardless of size, population, or wealth, unfortunately there are still critical gaps into which the most vulnerable people can fall and be exploited. The UK is perceived as a low-risk country, because of our relatively ample resources and strong political will – but in the 2020/21 financial year alone, 10,689 cases have been referred to the National Referral Mechanism (IASC, 2021). The real number of people living in some form of modern slavery in the UK is likely to be higher.

Riverford is known for dealing fairly with co-owners, suppliers and customers; fairness is one of our founding values, and remains at the heart of all we do. We are committed to remaining vigilant against the risks of modern slavery throughout our supply chain.

Our business structure and supply chain

Riverford Organic Farmers is an employee-owned company, growing, packing and delivering organic produce direct to customers’ doorsteps in England and Wales. The vast majority of our products are fresh fruit and veg straight from farms – mostly sourced in the UK, but we also work with organic farmers overseas.

Around 6% of our fresh produce comes directly from Riverford’s own organic farms in Devon, Hampshire, and Cambridgeshire. The rest is sourced from UK growers and makers, European growers, and growers in the Americas, Africa and Australasia. Our supply base is built on long-term relationships: in some cases, we’ve worked with our suppliers for over 20 years.

Riverford is a UK-based organic food retailer and wholesaler.

  • The majority of our products are fresh fruit and veg
  • Around two thirds of our veg is sourced from the UK
  • We have worked with some of our suppliers for over 20 years
  • Around 70,000 deliveries per week across England and Wales

In the 2020/21 financial year, we worked with over 200 suppliers, including fresh fruit and veg growers, livestock farmers, dried goods and packaging suppliers, dairies, bakeries, breweries, and wine merchants. The majority of them are in the UK (around two thirds of them in fact), with a number of fruit and veg suppliers spread throughout Europe (just under a third of all our suppliers), and several further afield.

Our suppliers by region

Our policies

We have developed Riverford’s policies for effective due diligence and the assessment of modern slavery risks based on:

Despite having a largely UK-based supply chain, we also source some products globally. With global sourcing activities come an increased risk of modern slavery in our supply chain. To mitigate this risk, we embed the principles of the above documents and our own stance on ethical food production into our sourcing principles and supplier approval process.

We make sure that our Whistleblowing Policy and Fair Labour Policy are both available to all Riverford co-owners as part of the induction process. The Whistleblowing Policy provides a safe channel of communication for co-owners to voice concerns about modern slavery or anything else relating to poor business or labour practices at Riverford that may be worrying them, and the Fair Labour Policy describes how co-owners at Riverford can expect to be treated. We also make our suppliers aware of the principles set out in the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code.

Due diligence and risk assessment

Riverford is rare for a business of our size in that we deal directly with the vast majority of our suppliers, avoiding middlemen that disconnect the retailer from the producer. Having direct, long-lasting relationships with a network of small suppliers gives us greater confidence in their production practices and their treatment of staff. However, remaining vigilant against the risks of modern slavery is paramount.

To assess actual and potential risks of modern slavery and human trafficking in our supply chain, we utilise principles found in the ETI Base Code. We conduct a desk-based risk assessment (covering national, sectoral, regulatory, socioeconomic and political factors affecting a supplier’s country or region), and use a suite of a suite of modern slavery indicators to assess suppliers during visits.

During the 2020-201 financial year, we released the Riverford Supplier Charter. Created in collaboration with suppliers, this document sets out what suppliers can expect from their relationship with us, and what we expect of them, including alignment with the principles of the ETI Base Code. This allows us to demonstrate to suppliers how we expect a fair supply chain to work.

In our own operations, we have identified the use of labour agencies as a potential risk: it means we don’t have direct relationships with some employees. To prevent exploitation, we work with licensed recruitment agencies, regularly audit the agencies we work with to ensure they are licensed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), and talk to employees to establish an on-the-ground picture of working conditions.

If risks or incidents of slavery are suspected in our supply chain or our operations, our Slavery Reporting Process will be used:

Checks & visits

Our due diligence processes allow us to scope for country and sector-specific risks, while a direct working relationship (wherever possible) with suppliers gives us a greater visibility of our supply chain. However, modern slavery is not always obvious; people may go to great lengths to conceal this criminal activity.

Due to the nature of our supply base (a great number of smaller suppliers and family farms), it’s difficult for us to visit 100% of suppliers in a year. COVID-19’s impact on supplier visits in the 2020/21 financial year was significant; while some visits were made locally in Devon and to growers we work with in Spain, we were unable to visit most of our suppliers.

While it is easy to see a positive image of labour conditions in our supply chain, we are aware of the hidden nature of modern slavery issues. We will continue to embed modern slavery indicator checks and visits into our procurement and supplier relationships.

Capacity building

We will continue to deliver and revisit relevant training on the risks of modern slavery, with a specific reminder for co-owners on the role that our Whistleblowing Policy plays in providing a safe way to raise concerns about potential instances of modern slavery or human trafficking in our operations or supply chain.

We will also be working directly with our core suppliers on reducing labour exploitation risks, and actions that they can take as individuals to tackle modern slavery. This will be through webinars and online training sessions, with follow-up work to establish that they are confident in tackling the risks of modern slavery in their operations.

COVID-19 & modern slavery

Worldwide, food systems have been under immense pressure because of COVID-19; especially agriculture, and food and beverage processors. This will likely have created opportunities for unscrupulous groups to push forward victims of forced labour, where recruitment processes have been sped up or bypassed in an attempt to rapidly fulfil labour requirements, or where procurement of products has undergone a lower threshold of risk assessment.

We have made sure to maintain the same high standard in our internal policies, due diligence and risk assessments as we did pre-pandemic, to ensure that the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking in Riverford operations and our supply chain is minimised. While the UK lockdowns meant that physically visiting suppliers weren’t possible for a lot of the 2020/21 financial year, we maintained contact through ‘virtual visits’, using video calls to ensure that we had our ear to the ground with our suppliers as much as possible.

As a business that strives to help people find fulfilment, dignity and pride their work, Riverford will continue to champion fairness in our own operations and supply chain.

This statement has been approved by the Riverford Board of Directors.

Rob Haward, Managing Director's signature

Rob Haward, Managing Director


GLAA, 2017. Modern slavery. [online] Available at:

ILO, 2017. Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. [online] ILO:Geneva. Available at: Accessed on: 25.07.2018.

ETI, 2017. Base Code Guidance: Modern Slavery. [online]. ETI:London. Available at: Accessed on: 23.07.2018.

Global Slavery Index, 2018. Global Slavery Index. [online] Available at: Accessed on: 30.08.2018.

National Crime Agency, 2017. National Referral Mechanism Statistics Annual Report. Available at: Accessed on: 11/09/2018.

Unseen UK, 2018. Modern Slavery Facts and Figures [online]. Available at: Accessed on: 30/08/2019.

IASC, 2021. Independent anti-slavery commissioner annual report 2020-2021. Available at: Accessed on: 19.08.2021.

GSI (Global Slavery Index), 2019. Measurement, Action, Freedom [online]. Available at: Accessed on: 30/07/2019

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