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UK company found liable to victims of modern slavery for the first time

3rd August 2016

A UK company, DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services Ltd has become the first company to be found liable to its workers for slavery and exploitation in the UK. 

The company was a gangmaster company that employed six Lithuanian workers to catch chickens on their farm. The workers had been trafficked into the UK and worked frequently on farms producing eggs for the leading supplier to a number of major supermarkets, including Tesco, Asda and M&S.

The company had its licence revoked by the Gangmaster Licensing Authority after the police raided houses controlled by it in 2012. The victims then took civil action against the company and the High Court has ruled that the workers are entitled to compensation for:

  • Failure to pay the agricultural minimum wage;

  • Charging of prohibited work-finding fees;

  • Unlawfully withholding wages; and

  • Depriving the workers of facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.

The amount of compensation will be assessed at a future date but is expected to run to hundreds of thousands of pounds for unpaid wages alone. A claim for personal injury is still to be heard.

This case shows that employers who exploit their workers can and should be pursued through the courts for lost earnings. It should also be seen as a warning to businesses that they need to make sure modern slavery is eradicated from their supply chains.

This decision follows a string of recent attempts to curb modern slavery and trafficking in the work place. In addition to this landmark ruling, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 places obligations on large commercial organisations that supply goods and services and have an annual turnover of at least £36million to publish an annual slavery statement highlighting the steps they have taken to ensure that trafficking and human slavery is not taking place in any of its supply chains or business. These provisions came into force on 29 October 2015 and apply to all commercial organisations from financial years ending on or after 31 March 2016.

The statement must be published as soon as reasonably practicable, and ideally within 6 months of the end of the financial year to which the statement relates. It is therefore strongly advised that any business with a complex supply chain, or with turnover of £36million or more, implements a strong anti-human trafficking and slavery policy so that it has clear reporting systems so that employees are clear on how to deal with any suspicions.

If you would like any advice in relation to the obligations under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

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