Landmark ruling finds gangmasters liable

14 June 2016

A High Court judge has ruled in favour of six workers trafficked from Lithuania in a case brought against chicken catching business DJ Houghton Catching Services.

This is the first time a British company has been found liable for abuses against victims of trafficking, according to the claimants’ legal representation. Two named defendants, company secretary Jacqueline Judge and director Darrell Houghton, were also found liable.

Mr Justice Supperstone found the Houghton defendants liable for breaking gangmasters licensing rules by charging the claimants fees, deducting from claimants’ wages and for failing to provide the claimants with facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.

The judge ruled that by paying the claimants by piece work for the numbers of chickens caught, without taking into account the number of hour worked, and for failing to pay the claimants for appropriate travel time, the defendants were failing to pay the agricultural minimum wage.

There are still outstanding claims that the judge has yet to rule on, and the level of damages for the judgements awarded have not been set. 

In a statement Shanta Martin, partner from law firm Leigh Day, who is representing the claimants, said the judgment was “the first time the High Court has ruled in favour of victims of trafficking against a British company”.

She continued: “It is an extremely important step towards proper compensation for our clients and should be seen as a warning to British companies that they must eradicate all forms of modern slavery from their businesses, whether in the UK or elsewhere.”

The workers have also made several claims against the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), the government body responsible for approving suppliers of labour in the agricultural industry, accusing it of negligence and failing in its obligations under the Human Rights Act. 

Judge Supperstone ruled the claims against the GLA were “distinct from the issues that arise” in the claims against the Houghton defendants and should be heard only after all outstanding claims against the Houghton defendants have been settled.

The GLA declined to comment as the case was still ongoing.

Chicken catchers collect birds from farms and put them in cages in preparation for shipping.

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