The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (“MSA”) was introduced in October 2015 and we have seen the first civil claim brought as a result of it. What does it tell us about the operation of the MSA?
Six Lithuanian nationals alleged they were trafficked by their employer and housed in overcrowded conditions. Their employer, DJ Houghton, provided chicken catching services to chicken farms across the UK. The claimants often worked on farms producing eggs that are sold in a number of major supermarkets and restaurants.
The workers described the living conditions they were faced with as inhuman and degrading, involving long shifts for days at a time (chicken catching often occurs at night), being denied sleep and rest breaks, and living in severely unsanitary conditions. Pay was made in relation to the number of chickens caught rather than the number of hours worked.
The workers brought various claims against DJ Houghton, its director and company secretary and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). Claims included a failure to pay minimum hourly wages, night work payments and payment for travel time, the charge of illegal recruitment fees, unlawful deductions from pay, and failure to provide facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink contrary to the Gangmasters (Licensing Conditions) Rules 2009.
The Judge ordered that the workers be compensated for the unlawful withholding of wages, for depriving the workers of facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink, for the charging of work-finding fees, and for failing to pay the workers the agricultural minimum wage. The amount of compensation awarded to the claimants will be decided at a later date.
This is has been described as a landmark decision, as it is the first time that a UK company has been ruled against in favour of the victims of trafficking.
These workers brought civil claims. The MSA imposes a duty on organisations with a presence in the UK and a global turnover of over £36 million to publicly report the steps they have taken to ensure their organisations and supply chains are free from slavery and human trafficking. However, these workers were working within the supply chain of a number of major supermarkets as well as other well-known businesses in the restaurant sector.
This case should therefore act as a warning to employers wishing to avoid, amongst other things, reputational damage in the future. Employers should take all reasonable steps now to ensure that their supply chains are free from modern slavery and fulfil the reporting requirements set out by the recent Modern Slavery Act.
If you would like to find out more about how the Modern Slavery Act affects your business, and how to take steps to protect your business, Boyes Turner are currently offering a Modern Slavery Act Toolkit and Modern Slavery Act Training, forming part of employers’ compliance with the Modern Slavery Act.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.