The High Court ruled on Friday (June 10) in favour of six Lithuanian men who were victims of trafficking, allowing them to claim damages.
They claimed to have been severely exploited by the company that employed them, DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd and company officers, Darrell Houghton and Jackie Judge.
In 2012, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) revoked the licence of D J Houghton Catching Services Ltd following a joint operation with Kent Police.
‘The worst UK gangmaster ever’
The GLA’s investigation found workers for the Maidstone-based firm suffered exploitation so extreme that it had to order the firm to stop supplying workers to farms and food factories immediately. The GLA called the company “the worst UK gangmaster ever”.
The claimants obtained judgement against the Houghton defendants who paid the men for the number of chickens caught on farms, rather than paying for time worked at minimum rates including night rates, and for time spent travelling.
The defendants were also found to have charged prohibited fees, unlawfully withheld wages, and failed to ensure the workers had adequate facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.
Unlawfully withheld wages
The amount of compensation to be paid to the claimants will be assessed at a future date.
“This is the first time the High Court has ruled in favour of victims of trafficking against a British company,” said Shanta Martin, the partner from law firm Leigh Day who represented the claimants.
“It is an extremely important step towards proper compensation for our clients and should be seen as a warning to British companies that they must eradicate all forms of modern slavery from their businesses, whether in the UK or elsewhere”.
The company, based in Kent, ran a business providing labour to poultry farms across the UK, including farms that supply chickens and free-range eggs for major brands available in supermarkets across Britain.
A two-day hearing before Judge Supperstone took place on May 11 and 12 in the Royal Courts of Justice, London, leading to this judgement.
Modern slavery toolkit launched
A best practice toolkit to help businesses tackle modern slavery in their global supply chains has been launched by industry alliance Stronger Together.
This new guidance provides practical resources and training based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights framework.
Stronger Together which produced the toolkit, is a business-led collaborative initiative sponsored by the UK’s nine largest supermarkets and working with other key stakeholders.
The toolkit can be downloaded for free.