Fed up with life as a truck driver, Ermek reckoned it was worth paying about $2,000 in travel and visa fees for a job on a farm in the U.K. What the 26-year-old from Kyrgyzstan didn’t expect was to be picked up at the airport, dropped in the English countryside after midnight and then given three days to master strawberry picking. He was fired after a month.

"I thought in Europe they valued their employees,” Ermek said from his home in southern Kyrgyzstan, where he returned last year. He declined to be identified by his full name for fear of reprisals from the recruiter. "They just abandoned us.”

U.K. agriculture has been scouring all corners of the globe to fill the void of migrant labor since Brexit while still trying to supply supermarkets used to wholesale prices that barely cover costs. But keeping the shelves stocked with fruit and vegetables is becoming a more precarious – and murky – business for both farmers and vulnerable workers.