As reported in our April blog ‘Modern Slavery - Closer Than You Think?’ there has been an upturn in slavery-related civil claims in the UK. This blog post provides an overview of a recent High Court judgment in favour of six Lithuanian workers against DJ Houghton, a business that supplied labour to chicken farms.

DJ Houghton ran a business providing labour to chicken farms across the UK, including farms that supply chickens and free-range eggs for major brands such as Happy Eggs, available in supermarkets across Britain. A group of six Lithuanian workers initiated proceedings in the High Court alleging they were trafficked to the UK and subjected to severe labour exploitation. The claims centred around breach of contract, negligence, harassment and assault. Compensation was sought for personal injury, distress, and unpaid wages.

In what has been described as a landmark judgment, Mr Justice Supperstone ruled that the men were owed compensation for DJ Houghton’s failure to pay the agricultural minimum wage, for the charging of prohibited work-finding fees, for unlawfully withholding wages, and for depriving the workers of facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink. Mr Justice Supperstone also ruled against an application by DJ Houghton to strike out the case in its entirety, and an application to set aside similar claims of 10 further workers. The amount of compensation to be paid to the workers will be assessed at a future date. Other aspects of the claim, such as personal injury claims, remain to be determined.

The Gangmaster Licensing Authority, the regulator of businesses who provide workers to the fresh produce supply chain and horticulture industry said: ‘The treatment of workers in this case was horrific. It’s a shocking example of an utter disregard for the welfare of workers … our scoring system rated them as the worst UK gangmaster ever.’

This is the first time the High Court has ruled in favour of victims of trafficking against a British company. And while the case wasn’t focused around the Modern Slavery Act, it does provide a cautionary tale for global businesses - the trafficked people worked within supply chains for several major supermarkets as well as the restaurant sector.

The judgment can be found here.