Ruling

02862-21 Castleton Farm v Daily Mirror

    • Date complaint received

      14th October 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02862-21 Castleton Farm v Daily Mirror

Summary of Complaint

1. Castleton Farm complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Misery for foreign workers harvesting food we won't pick”, published on 19 March 2021.

2. The article, which appeared on page 25 of the print newspaper, reported on the experiences of non-EU workers who had worked in Scotland as fruit-pickers “as part of a special post-Brexit pilot scheme.” The article included comments from a named worker on her experience of the scheme and employment at Castleton Farm, a fruit-picking farm in Scotland, who had applied for the scheme “hoping to save enough to study at university.” According to the article, the worker “was dismissed from the farm after three weeks for missing targets” and during her time at the farm, according to a quote from the worker, she “stayed in three caravans in two months”.

3. The worker was also quoted as stating that she “had to keep working and stop eating to save the money for the ticket” home, as the article stated that “[a]fter taking out loans in Russia to afford £244 for the visa and travel to Britain, she ended up without even enough money for her air fare home.” It also said that the worker had “slowly starved herself to pay for airfare home” and had “endur[ed] what she said were poverty wages”. The article went on to include a quote from a different worker, explaining how the payment system worked at the farm: “There was a ‘performance management review’ every two hours where the supervisor would check how many boxes we have done. If we hadn’t made the National Minimum Wage, we’d be sent back to the caravan, because the farm has to top up wages to £8.72 an hour under the law”. The article also included a small photograph of the main worker, appearing below the main photograph in the article. It was captioned with the statement that the worker “had missed targets and gone home with nothing”.

4. The article also explored the wider context of the worker’s situation, and referred to a Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) report, “the first ever report into the experiences of people on the [pilot] scheme”, which “found evidence of exploitation and ‘high risks of human trafficking for forced labour’”. It went on to establish the background of the report, which was based on ”[i]nterviews and surveys with 84 workers on 12 farms, of which 39 people were on the scheme”. The article also included a quote from the Chief Executive of FLEX, who said that “major flaws in the scheme’s design that have left workers open to the real risk of modern slavery.”  The article also quoted from the report, and included a quotation from a worker in the report who said that they felt “like a slave”. The article then included a response from Castleton Farm, in which a spokesperson stated that “whilst the FLEX report identified a risk to exploitation, they found no cases or evidence of any exploitation or illegal practices on any of the 12 farms [referred to in the report], including ours.”

5. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “Workers live like 'slaves' in caravans after coming to UK under promise of jobs”. The online article also included a sub-headline: “EXCLUSIVE: [Named worker] endured 'degrading' living conditions and poverty wages after coming to the UK to work on a fruit farm and save for her education - she ended up having to starve herself just to be able to affored [sic] to get back home“. The online article also included the photograph of the worker which had also appeared in the print article; however, in the online article it appeared prominently, below the headline.

6. The complainant said that the article included several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. It said first that it was inaccurate to state that the named farm worker, who featured prominently in the article, had been “dismissed from the farm after three weeks”, as employment records demonstrated that she had been employed at the farm for 10 weeks.  It also said that it was inaccurate for the photograph caption to report that the worker “had missed targets and gone home with nothing”, where she had been paid for her work at the farm. The complainant further said that the worker had not said that she had “starved herself” to afford the airfare home; this was the publication’s characterisation, and was inaccurate as the worker had earned money and she had not earned below national minimum wage during her time at the farm.

7. Turning to the online version of the article, the complainant said that the headline was inaccurate as the worker in the article had been given a job and had not been lured with the “promise” of one, as stated by the headline. It also said that the article was inaccurate in referencing “slaves” in the same article and the online headline as the worker who had been at the farm had not made any references to slavery in her quotations to the newspaper, and the report referred to in the article had not found any incidences of illegal exploitation at Castleton Farm.

8. Finally, the complainant said that it had not been given the opportunity to reply to the inaccuracies in the article, in breach of Clause 1 (iii). It said that the farm had been contacted by the newspaper for comment prior to the publication of the article, and provided the correspondence which showed this. However, it said that the farm had still not been given the fullest opportunity to comment, as it had not been given the name of the worker or her specific claims and so could not refute the claims she made regarding her experiences, and in particular the claims regarding her pay and the length of time she had worked at the farm.

9. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate regarding the amount of time that the worker had spent at the farm, and that she had worked there for ten weeks rather than three. It said that this may have been a translation error, and that the worker had in fact said three months instead of weeks; it provided contemporaneous notes taken by the journalist which referred to the worker having been employed at the farm for three weeks. While it did not accept that this represented a significant inaccuracy, it proposed to publish the following correction in its regular Corrections & Clarifications column on page 2 of the print newspaper to put the correct position on record:

“Our article  'Misery for foreign workers harvesting food we won't pick' 19 March, reported that farmworker [named worker] worked on Castleton Fruit Farm three weeks. In fact, [the worker] worked on the farm for three months. We are happy to clarify this.”

It also offered to amend the online article to make the true position on this point clear, and to include the following footnote to make the true position clear:

“A previous version of this article reported that [the worker] worked on Castleton Fruit Farm three weeks. In fact, [the worker] worked on the farm for three months. We are happy to clarify this.”

The publication offered to publish the correction and footnote 12 days after IPSO referred the complaint as raising a possible breach of the Editors’ Code.

10. The publication did not accept that the article included any additional inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. Regarding the alleged inaccuracy which the complainant said arose from the article reporting that the worker had returned home “with nothing”, it noted that the article did not state that the work was underpaid, nor that she had not been paid at all. Rather, it reported that after paying for food and additional costs – including “the visa and travel to Britain” referred to in the article – the worker said that she had broken even and had not returned home with additional money.

11. Turning to the complainant’s concerns over the reference to an unnamed worker saying they felt “a slave” in the article, the publication noted that the basis for this was a quote from another worker – who was not reported within the article as having worked at Castleton Farm – and that this worker had been fairly and accurately quoted. In any event, it also noted that since the article’s publication, the named Castleton Farm worker had submitted an official complaint to the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) in which she also referenced “people being treated as slaves”. It also noted that the article included a quote from the Farm, in which it stated that “whilst the FLEX report identified a risk to exploitation, they found no cases or evidence of any exploitation or illegal practices on any of the 12 farms, including ours”.

12. The publication said it had given Castleton Farm a fair opportunity to comment on the article prior to publication and that with the exception of the point noted above, there were no inaccuracies requiring a reply. Nevertheless, it said that it would be happy to consider inserting a further comment from the Farm, responding to the specific experiences detailed in the article, into the online article.

13. The complainant said, that by reporting that the worker had returned home “with nothing”, the article was misleading, as it implied she had been poorly paid or not paid at all. It therefore said that he wished for this information to be corrected and further noted that she was not obliged to stay on site. He went on to say that the worker’s later official complaint to the AWB was irrelevant, where the newspaper had not been aware of this complaint at the time of publication and could therefore not have relied on it. It also disputed that he had been given an adequate opportunity to comment on the article, where the response had been general and the farm could not comment on the specifics of the worker’s situation, as it was not aware of her identity prior to the article’s publication.

14. The complainant said that it would only be content to resolve the complaint should the newspaper amend the online article to remove all references to slavery, and for a correction to accompany these changes. It said that he also wished for the correction to include an apology, and to make clear the actual amount of time the worker worked at the farm.

15. The newspaper said that it did not consider it would be appropriate for a correction to include the alleged inaccuracies regarding the reference to worker being treated “like slaves”.

Relevant Code Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

16. The newspaper accepted that it was inaccurate to report that the worker “was dismissed from the farm after three weeks for missing targets”; it was not in dispute that the worker had actually spent 10 weeks at the farm. The claim that the worker had spent “just” 3 weeks at the farm was contradicted within the article itself, which included a quote from the worker stating that she had “stayed in three caravans in two months” while working at the farm. Where the information was, on the face of it, contradictory and it did not appear that the publication had noted this contradiction nor taken any steps to resolve it or establish the true position prior to publication, the publication had not taken care over the accuracy of the claim that the worker “was dismissed from the farm after three weeks”. There was a breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.

17. This inaccuracy was significant in the context of an article about the allegedly poor working conditions and treatment of workers on the fruit farm. Additionally, this worker’s experience at the farm was a key part of the story and, as such, the length of time she had spent there was relevant to the account and its reliability. In this context, reporting that she had been at the fact for 3 weeks instead of 10 was significantly inaccurate. As such, the publication was required, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), to correct the inaccuracy.

18. The Committee turned to the question of whether the action offered by the newspaper was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii) on this point. The publication had offered to publish a print correction, amend the online article, and footnote the online article on 19 April, 12 days after it had been made aware of the alleged inaccuracy through IPSO’s complaints process. The correction and footnote proposed set out both the original inaccuracy and the correct position, and the publication had proposed to publish the print correction in its established Corrections and Clarifications column on page 2 of its print edition, and the footnote below the amended online article. The Committee was satisfied that the corrective action had been offered promptly, where it was made aware of the true position on 7 April and had attempted to establish how the inaccuracy had occurred – by referring to contemporaneous notes and the fact that a translation error may have occurred. The proposed location of both the correction and footnote were duly prominent: the proposed correction would appear in an established Corrections & Clarifications column on page 2, and the original print article had appeared on page 25; and the footnote would appear directly below the amended article. For these reasons, the Committee found that the remedial action proposed by the newspaper was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

19. The complainant had also disputed a number of descriptions by the woman and the publication of her experiences on the farm. While the Committee understood that the complainant disputed the worker’s characterisation of her wages as “poverty pay”, it was clearly distinguished as her opinion of her pay in accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (iv), which makes clear that comment can be published, provided it is distinguished from fact: the “poverty pay” characterisation was attributed to the worker, and the article included factual information about pay levels that the complainant did not appear to dispute, including that workers were paid a minimum wage but would undergo regular performance reviews to ensure they met productivity targets. The Committee understood that the complainant also disputed that the worker had “starved herself” to afford to pay for her air fare home; however, the basis for this characterisation by the publication was set out in a direct quote from the worker in which she said that she “stop[ped] eating” to afford the air-fare home, and the complainant was not in a position to dispute what steps the worker had taken to save money to travel home. The complainant had also denied that the worker had returned home “with nothing”, and said that this implied the worker had not been paid or had been paid below legal minimum wage. The Committee considered that this was not a claim that the worker had not been paid or had been paid in contravention of minimum wage laws. Rather, as the article explained, this was a reference to the woman’s account that she had not been able to save money for her studies. Included within the woman’s description of her experiences was the fact that the farm was obliged to “top up” pay to the minimum wage, and there was no suggestion that it failed to do so. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

20. The complainant had also said that the online headline and both versions of the article were inaccurate, where they included references to workers “living ‘like slaves’”. The Committee first noted that the basis for the headline came from a quotation from the FLEX report which had been included in the article, in which another anonymous worker referred to feeling “like a slave”. The Committee also noted that it was not clear where the second worker was based, as all workers in the FLEX report were anonymised and the names of the farms where they worked were not given. Nevertheless, the quotation acted as a basis for the headline, and there was no dispute that a worker had said this about their experience of working at a fruit-picking farm. The publication was entitled to quote the anonymous worker and rely on their experiences as the basis for the headline, where the article reported not only on Castleton Farm but on the pilot scheme in general. In addition, the article made clear that workers at Castleton were paid for work, and included an extensive response from the farm which made clear that “whilst the FLEX report identified a risk to exploitation, they found no cases or evidence of any exploitation or illegal practices on any of the 12 farms [referred to in the report], including [Castleton Farm]”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

21. The publication had contacted Castleton Farm prior to publication and had requested its comment on issues raised by the FLEX report. The request for comment did not refer to the specific case of the named worker who had spoken to the publication about her time at Castleton Farm. However, the Committee did not consider that it was necessary for the publication to put the specific claims raised by the worker to the publication prior to publication. One significant inaccuracy had arisen from the article – the length of time that the worker had been employed at the farm – and the publication had offered to correct this, in line with the terms of Clause 1 (ii), after being made aware of the true position from the complainant; there was no requirement for a further comment from the complainant to address this significant inaccuracy, where the newspaper had accepted that it was inaccurate and had proposed to publish a correction. Other claims made by the worker were based on her own experience and perception of the farm and the scheme, and were clearly presented as such. They did not constitute significant inaccuracies. There was no breach of Clause 1(iii).

22. The complainant had said that the online headline had breached Clause 1, where it referred to workers coming to UK due to the “promise of jobs”. The Committee did not consider this to be inaccurate, where it was not in dispute that the workers referred to in the article had travelled to the UK to obtain work. The use of the term “promise of jobs” in the headline did not imply or claim that there were no jobs available, when read in conjunction with the article itself, which made clear that workers travelling to the UK had obtained employment.  There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

23.  The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (i).

Remedial Action Required

24. The corrections which were offered clearly put the correct position on record, and were offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.

 

Date complaint received: 19/03/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/09/2021