First fines in the UK for Modern Slavery – a very current issue
4 August 2016 by Tony Fisher
With our new prime minister promising to crack down on modern slavery and committing an additional £33m to combat slavery it was an opportune time for The High Court to find a UK company civilly liable for victims of trafficking for the first time.
DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services Ltd, a gangmaster company, was last week ordered to pay compensation to Lithuanian workers who had been trafficked to the UK and severely exploited by the company. The police raided houses controlled by the company in 2012 and freed several suspected victims of human trafficking. 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 been brought.
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 they do sufficient due diligence to remove the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains. The Modern Slavery Act is the first piece of UK legislation which puts specific obligations on larger companies to report on the steps which they have taken to ensure that slavery has not taken place in their supply chains. In view of Theresa May’s interest in the subject it is unlikely to be the last.
There is a much wider discussion going on presently with regard to the obligation of businesses generally to respect human rights, not just in their supply chains but in all their dealings with staff, clients, and suppliers. Multi-nationals have been talking about it for a long time. As long ago as 2011 the United Nations agreed some “Guiding Principles” with regard to business and human rights but domestic legislation is only recently beginning to emerge which give the force of law to some of the principles adopted. It is a fast moving area. If you would like advice regarding your own obligations under the Modern Slavery Act or with regard to business and human rights generally contact Tony Fisher.