LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The owners of a chicken company have agreed to pay more than 1 million pounds in compensation and legal costs after reaching a landmark settlement with a group of Lithuanian men trafficked to Britain to work on farms, lawyers said on Tuesday.
The agreement follows a June high court ruling that found chicken company DJ Houghton guilty of charging prohibited fees, unlawfully withholding wages and failing to ensure the workers had adequate living and working conditions.
“Our clients are so pleased to finally be getting not only wages they were owed, but a substantial sum to settle claims alleging physical and psychological abuse,” Shanta Martin from Leigh Day, the law firm representing the Lithuanian men, said in a statement.
Leigh Day said the defendants settled the civil claim without admitting liability. To date, no criminal charges have been filed against DJ Houghton and its owners, who supplied chickens and eggs to British supermarkets.
The June decision marked the first time the High Court ruled in favour of victims of trafficking against a British firm, said Martin.
“The very large bill being faced by the defendants for both the compensation and their defence costs, is also a salutary lesson to others who might seek to profit from modern slavery,” she said.
Leigh Day declined to provide a breakdown of the specific amounts to be paid in compensation and legal costs.
The six victims, aged 19 to 58, had sought compensation for injuries, unpaid wages and breaches of health and safety.
They accused DJ Houghton’s owners of trafficking, abuse and beatings over several years.
Lawyers representing the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
“TREATED LIKE SLAVES”
Since the first proceedings, an additional 10 migrants have come forward to join the civil claim against DJ Houghton. Their case is likely to be heard in 2017, Leigh Day said.
The group were trafficked into Britain in 2008 and employed by DJ Houghton to catch birds in chicken houses.
They escaped in August 2012 and gave statements to the local police.
Police raided houses belonging to DJ Houghton director Darrell Houghton and company secretary Jacqueline Judge just two months later and freed several suspected victims of trafficking.
The workers said they were harassed and abused by their supervisors, and intimidated with dogs. One supervisor allegedly split the lip of a worker by punching him in the face, before pouring urine and cider into the wound.
“We felt trapped ... we were being treated like slaves,” one of the men, Antanas Galdikas, previously told the lawyers.
Britain’s Gangmaster Licensing Authority, the government body which regulates the supply of workers to the agriculture industry, said it revoked DJ Houghton’s licence immediately after the police raid on the directors’ properties.
Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ed Upright; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org