Last week saw the first finding of civil liability against a company for modern slavery in the UK.
DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services Ltd, a gangmaster company, was ordered to pay compensation to Lithuanian workers who had been trafficked to the UK and severely exploited by the company.
The Gangmaster Licensing Authority revoked the company’s licence and the trafficked men were taken into the care of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking, but no criminal charges have yet been brought.
The court ruled that the workers were owed compensation for failure to pay the agricultural minimum wage, charging prohibited work-finding fees, unlawfully withholding wages and depriving the workers of facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink. Coming off the back of what we learnt the week before about workers at Sports Direct it is clear that exploitation of workers is something that very much can and does occur in the UK.
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. It is entirely possible that you or I have purchased products from this supply chain.
I am sure we can all applaud the bringing of a claim against the company who treated its workers in this way, hoping that it will set an example or deter others. The big brands named above will also doubtless be horrified to have their names associated with such practices and will be looking at how they can ensure their supply chains are free of rogue operators.
I have written previously about the legislation the big players now have to comply with in this area and how this is likely to percolate down the supply chain: http://www.refreshinglawltd.co.uk/?p=787. Indeed, it seems that larger players aren’t just request statements from their suppliers setting out the Board’s take on such matters but actually requesting to see a formal policy and to know what actions the suppliers are taking. Don’t be surprised if as part of the procurement process you need to evidence to those you are working with that you take this issue seriously and are ensuring that no-one in your supply chain is exploiting workers either.