Gangmaster Settles Claims Brought Under the Modern Slavery Act
Six claimants were trafficked to the UK from Lithuania after recruitment by an agent employed by the defendants, DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services Ltd. The company were gangmasters and the men were then employed in the defendants' major chicken and egg supply business working gruelling hours in difficult conditions and being housed in overcrowded and dirty accommodation, provided with inadequate facilities to wash and rest, eat and drink and then subjected to intimidation and abuse. Additionally, they would often be required to travel to farms across the UK for days at a time, travelling for up to seven hours before their working day actually began and were provided with inadequate or no personal protective equipment and clothing. The men were paid less than the minimum wage and would frequently have deductions from their wages made on wholly spurious pretexts such as failing to wash a mug.
The claimants' claim has now been settled after proceedings were instituted in the High Court and after the High Court found in favour of the claimants on the substantive claims under the Modern Slavery Act.
The purpose of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is to ensure that supply chains are slavery-free. The fact that a company has published a slavery and human trafficking statement, as required by section 54 of the MSA is not the extent of corporate responsibility so a company should remain vigilant. The company could be prosecuted for one of the substantive criminal offences under the identification principle and the rules of attribution.
There are three criminal offences (all triable either way):
- Slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.
- Human trafficking.
- Committing any offence with the intent to commit human trafficking.
The court ruled that the workers were owed compensation for:
- Failure to pay the agricultural minimum wage.
- Charging of prohibited work-finding fees.
- Unlawfully withholding wages.
- Depriving the workers of facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.
The trafficked men were working in supply chains producing premium free range eggs for McDonald’s, Tesco, Asda, M&S and the Sainsbury’s Woodland brand.
This is the first time that a UK company has been found civilly liable for victims of trafficking and should make businesses more cognisant of the need to ensure that modern slavery is eradicated form their supply chains.
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