Victims of modern slavery to be awarded compensation in landmark High Court ruling
Six Lithuanian men who were exploited by British company, DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services after being trafficked to the UK will be awarded compensation after being forced to work in “inhuman and degrading” conditions.
The claimants, who were employed to catch chickens on farms across the company claimed that they were forced to work for days at a time without sleep or adequate rest breaks, were denied the minimum wage and had their wages unlawfully withheld.
Whilst the amount of compensation that will be awarded has yet to be determined, the company is expected to be ordered to pay out a substantial sum in respect of unpaid wages alone. The claimants are also anticipated to claim damages for non-financial losses which could include the pain and suffering they experienced at the hands of their employer.
It is well know that holding another person in slavery or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour is a criminal offence. The current case is significant in demonstrating the role of compensation in modern day slavery cases and may well encourage a move towards compensation claims in this area, in addition to criminal prosecution.
Interestingly, it has been reported in the media that the trafficked individuals were in fact working as part of a national supply chain producing eggs for some of Britain’s biggest retailers including Asda and Marks & Spencer. This highlights the reputational risks for organisation’s involved in supply chains who may find themselves unknowingly associated with modern day slavery.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 contains various provisions that focus on increasing transparency in supply chains. The act requires commercial organisations (including charities) with a minimum turnover of £36 million per year to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement setting out the steps that the organisation has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains or any part of its own business.
Unfortunately this case goes to show that slavery isn’t just a historical issue. Organisations need to be aware of the risks and take steps to avoid them. Those that don’t, may find themselves faced with significant compensation claims on top of the exposure to criminal liability.