Government reforms (1): Modern slavery – don’t ignore it!

modern slaveryWhat do we already know?

We updated you in our February 2016 Newsletter Government reforms (1): Modern slavery disclosure obligations and our Anne-Marie Boyle’s blog Modern slavery – a twenty-first century wakeup call on the Modern Slavery Act 2015 which aims to combat crimes of slavery and human trafficking and requires commercial organisations with a global turnover above £36m to publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year.

As a reminder, commercial organisations with less than £36m turnover who are in the business of supplying goods or services to larger organisations will not be immune. Your larger customers and clients may well be approaching you as part of their due diligence to determine what your business is doing to eradicate modern slavery.

What’s new?

In case you thought modern slavery was really only something which happened elsewhere and the Modern Slavery Act obligations just a painful paper exercise, we have a wakeup call from the Courts.

For the first time a UK company has been found civilly liable for victims of trafficking, On 10 June 2016, the High Court found DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services Ltd (‘DJ Houghton’) liable to compensate victims of modern slavery.

The High Court ordered DJ Houghton to pay compensation to Lithuanian workers who had been trafficked to the UK and severely exploited by the company.  The Court ruled that the trafficked workers were owed compensation for:

  • failure to pay the agricultural minimum wage;
  • charging of prohibited work-finding fees;
  • unlawfully withholding wages; and
  • depriving the workers of facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.

The amount of compensation will be fixed at a later hearing but is expected to run to hundreds of thousands of pounds for unpaid wages alone.

The Gangmaster Licensing Authority revoked DJ Houghton’s licence and the trafficked men were taken into the care of the National Referral Mechanism for victims of human trafficking.  However, no criminal charges have been brought.

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.

For further details of the case please see here.

Implications?

This case is a timely wakeup call for organisations to ensure they are compliant with the new Modern Slavery Act obligations and to eradicate any form of modern slavery form their supply chains.  It is clear that modern slavery issues occur not just in the developing world, but also much closer to home.

The case also demonstrates the growing appetite to clamp down on such abuses, and importance of taking action sooner rather than later!

If you would like support with complying with the Modern Slavery Act obligations, either the preparation of your MSA statement or reviewing/amending your staff policies, please contact our Senior Solicitor, Anne-Marie Boyle at .