Back in August last year we reported that six Lithuanian employees were suing a Kent-based Company, DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd, in the High Court. This is the first ever case of a UK firm being taken to court for modern slavery-related offences. The High Court has found DJ Houghton liable and ordered it to pay compensation to the victims of modern slavery.
The Claimants were trafficked to the UK and employed between 2008-2012, by the Kent-based company, to catch birds in chicken houses and load them onto trucks bound for processing plants. The farms on which the Claimants worked supplied free-range eggs to the likes of Noble Foods, Freedom Foods, McDonalds, Tesco, Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s Woodlands brand. The Claimants’ claims included that their wages fell below the minimum wage threshold and were withheld, that fines were unlawfully imposed on them and that they were deprived of even the most basic facilities to allow them to simply rest, eat, wash and drink.
DJ Houghton has been ordered to pay compensation to the victims. Although this amount is yet to be decided, it is estimated that compensation for unpaid wages alone will amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds and claims for personal injury are yet to be heard. The Company’s licence has been revoked, and the trafficked individuals taken into the care of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking. It is reported that a further ten Lithuanian employees, employed by DJ Houghton over the same period and in similar conditions, have now brought claims.
The liability imposed here provides a clear warning to businesses to ensure that modern slavery is eradicated from their supply chains. Larger organisations, whose global turnover exceeds £36 million, are required to publish annual slavery and trafficking statements for their financial year under the Modern Slavery Act increasing business accountability.