DJ Houghton lawsuit (re trafficked Lithuanian migrants)

In December 2014, six Lithuanian nationals commenced a civil lawsuit in the UK against the company DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services (DJ Houghton).  They were employed between 2008 and 2012 to catch birds in chicken farms across the UK for major brands supplying chickens and eggs to supermarkets.  

The claimants said that they were trafficked to the UK in 2008 by a Lithuanian national, who was paid for this service by the defendants.  Upon arrival in the UK, they claim they were subjected to severe labour exploitation.  The workers described living in inhuman and degrading conditions, working long shifts, and being deprived of sleep and toilet breaks.  They were paid less than the minimum wage required for agricultural workers, and they claim that their pay was often docked for spurious reasons or completely withheld.  They also alleged that they were threatened and abused by supervisors.  The claimants escaped DJ Houghton in August 2012.  Later that year, the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA), the public body which regulates workers in the agriculture industry, revoked the license of DJ Houghton following a police raid on the company property.  The GLA referred the workers to the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which confirmed that they were victims of trafficking.

After the commencement of the civil claim in December 2014, a further 10 Claimants came forward. A second set of proceedings was therefore issued and stayed pending the outcome of the first proceedings.

The defendants argue that the claims could and should have been brought before the Employment Tribunal; and that there was an on-going personal injuries claim that dealt with the same issues. In early 2016, the claimants applied to enter summary judgment on the basis that the defences of the Houghtons did not respond to large parts of the claims.

On 10 June 2016, a London High Court judge found in favour of the claimants, and denied the applications of the Houghton defendants.  He found the company liable for labour exploitation and ordered it to pay compensation for the unpaid wages.  In December 2016, the defendants agreed to a settlement worth more than £1 million in compensation and legal costs for the Lithuanian victims.

 

- "Gangmasters agree to pay more than £1m to settle modern slavery claim", Felicity Lawrence, Guardian, 20 Dec 2016
- “Court finds UK gangmaster liable for modern slavery victims”, Felicity Lawrence, Guardian, 10 Jun 2016
- “Lithuanian migrants trafficked to UK egg farms sue 'worst gangmaster ever'”, Felicity Lawrence, Guardian, 10 Aug 2015

- “Kent based gangmaster stopped from trading for serious exploitation of workers”, Gangmasters Licensing Authority, 30 Oct 2012

Leigh Day (plaintiffs’ lawyer):
- “Judgment against “UK’s Worst Gangmaster” in favour of modern slavery victims”, 10 Jun 2016 
- “British company sued in landmark modern slavery case”, 10 Aug 2015

- “Antanas, Galdikas & Others v. DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd, Jacqueline Judge, Darrell Houghton, Gangmasters Licensing Authority”, Mr Justice Supperstone, High Court of Justice Queen's Bench Division, 10 Jun 2016

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Article
19 April 2017

Commentary: The Legal Case Map, a key resource for firms' human rights & modern slavery risk management

Author: Kristina Novak, Liberty Asia

"Innovative Tech Tools Changing Modern Slavery Risk Perception", 13 Apr 2017

[C]hanging expectations of business on human rights risk management require a significant shift in its current due diligence process, specifically in the way risk is identified...Liberty Asia, in partnership with Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, have created a Legal Case Map, providing...a detailed understanding of past cases and the cost to society and to the corporations of human rights violations including modern slavery and trafficking.  The map plots and describes ways businesses have been held legally accountable...this tool is a key resource for business and human rights risk...

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Article
20 December 2016

Gangmasters agree to pay more than £1m to settle modern slavery claim

Author: Felicity Lawrence, Guardian (UK)

A Kent-based gangmaster couple have agreed to a landmark settlement worth more than £1m in compensation and legal costs for a group of migrants who were trafficked to work on farms producing eggs for high street brands.  The deal reached with six Lithuanian chicken catchers is the first settlement of a claim against a British company in relation to modern slavery, and came after the group became frustrated at the lack of a criminal prosecution.  Ten other claimants are now expected to bring similar cases...The couple agreed to the compensation deal after a high court ruling this year found that they had failed to pay the national minimum wage, had made unlawful deductions from wages and had failed to provide adequate facilities...The Lithuanians were sent to work in supply chains producing premium free range eggs for McDonald’s, Tesco, Asda, M&S and the Sainsbury’s Woodland brand...Laurynas Kelpsa, one of the Lithuanian workers...said he was happy that a civil settlement had finally been reached after four years, although he remained disappointed that the police had not brought charges...Houghtons did not respond to requests for comment. The Guardian understands that it has settled the claims relating to threats and assault without admitting liability.

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Lawsuit
20 December 2016

Joy for trafficked workers, while 'UK's Worst Gangmaster' faces mounting legal bills

Author: Leigh Day (UK)

Leigh Day today announced it has achieved substantial compensation for the first claimants to ever bring a High Court case against a British company in relation to modern slavery.  The legal action...alleges that Kent-based couple, Darrell Houghton and Jacqueline Judge, who ran the company, DJ Houghton Catching Services Limited, had subjected victims of human trafficking to severe labour exploitation.  “Our clients have faced enormous difficulties since they came to the UK thinking they would be earning a decent living for honest work, but found themselves being terribly exploited by a British business,” said Ms Martin.  “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.”...In addition to the compensation payable under the settlement, the Houghton defendants have had to pay a very large amount towards their own legal defence costs.  The Houghton defendants are also facing compensation claims from another 10 workers, whose case before the High Court had been stayed pending the outcome of the first six claims...

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Item
10 June 2016

Antanas, Galdikas & Others v. DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd, Jacqueline Judge, Darrell Houghton, Gangmasters Licensing Authority

Author: England and Wales High Court (Queen's Bench Division) (UK)

[Full text of the judgment]

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Article
10 June 2016

Court finds UK gangmaster liable for modern slavery victims

Author: Felicity Lawrence, Guardian (UK)

A British company has been found liable for the first time for victims of modern slavery in a landmark high court judgment. The judge...found in favour of six Lithuanian men who were trafficked to the UK and brought a civil case claiming compensation for being severely exploited by the Kent-based gangmaster firm that employed them, DJ Houghton Chicken Catching Services Ltd...The judge ruled that the men were owed compensation for the firm’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. The workers have described living and working inhuman and degrading conditions. They say they were forced to work back-to-back eight hours shifts for days at a time, and were denied sleep and toilet breaks, forcing them to urinate in bottles and defecate in carrier bags in their minibuses as they travelled between jobs...The Lithuanians’ claims were brought in a civil case by solicitors Leigh Day and mark a significant breakthrough in attempts for victims of modern slavery to get justice.  Their lawyer at the firm, Shanta Martin, said: “This is the first time a British company has been found liable for victims of trafficking and it is going to make a world of difference to our clients. It should be seen as a warning shot to businesses that they need to make sure modern slavery is eradicated form their supply chains.”

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Article
10 June 2016

Judgment against “UK’s Worst Gangmaster” in favour of modern slavery victims

Author: Leigh Day

The High Court today handed down judgment in favour of six Lithuanian men who were trafficked to the UK and claim to have been severely exploited by the British company that employed them, DJ Houghton Catching Services Limited and company officers...

The judge, Justice Supperstone, found in favour of the Claimants on several key aspects of their claims including that they were not paid according to minimum wage requirements for agricultural workers...
The Houghton Defendants were also found to have charged prohibited fees, unlawfully withheld wages, and failed to ensure the workers had adequate facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink...

"This is the first time the High Court has ruled in favour of victims of trafficking against a British company" said Shanta Martin, the partner from law firm Leigh Day who is representing the claimants.

"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"...

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Article
10 August 2015

British company sued in landmark modern slavery case

Author: Leigh Day

In one of the first legal cases of its kind, a British company is being taken to the High Court by victims of modern slavery seeking compensation for their alleged abuse and mistreatment. Six Lithuanian men are accusing Kent-based DJ Houghton Catching Services Limited (DJ Houghton), and the company’s director and secretary…of liability for trafficking the men and subjecting them to severe labour exploitation…They claim they were forced to work without a bed, a shower or adequate food on an almost continuous rota for days at a time, for which they were grossly underpaid. They were employed by DJ Houghton between 2008 and 2012 to catch birds in chicken houses and load them onto trucks bound for processing plants. The farms on which the men worked supplied chickens and free-range eggs…available in supermarkets across Britain…The claimants freed themselves from the abuse by escaping to a nearby Citizens Advice Bureau in August 2012…The case continues in the High Court, with a hearing scheduled for Tuesday 11 August 2015 to determine whether the Houghton defendants should be allowed to delay the litigation until 2016…

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Article
10 August 2015

Lithuanian migrants trafficked to UK egg farms sue 'worst gangmaster ever'

Author: Felicity Lawrence, Guardian (UK)

A group of Lithuanian migrants who were trafficked to work in farms producing eggs for high street brands are suing a Kent-based gangmaster operation and its directors, in the first case of a UK company being taken to court for claims relating to modern slavery. The six Lithuanians suing for damages are among a group of more than 30 men who worked as chicken catchers for DJ Houghton…[T]he workers bringing the legal action have described inhuman and degrading conditions…They said they were the victims of violence, described the process of being debt-bonded on arrival, and spoke of their accommodation riddled with bedbugs and of becoming so hungry that they ate raw eggs. They have reported being denied sleep and toilet breaks…They also allege that their pay was repeatedly withheld…It is notoriously hard for victims of trafficking to get justice. There have been 75 convictions for gangmaster offences since the Gangmaster Licensing Act regulating them came in to force, but only one compensation order for workers…The Houghtons…told local media that they are blameless…Leigh Day believe the claim is the first high court case to be made against a corporate defendant for trafficking-related claims…[Also refers to Asda (part of Walmart), Freedom Foods, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s, Noble Foods, Sainsbury, Tesco]

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Article
30 October 2012

Kent based gangmaster stopped from trading for serious exploitation of workers

Author: Gangmasters Licensing Authority (UK)

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has revoked the licence of D J Houghton Catching Services Limited with immediate effect following a joint operation with Kent police.  The Maidstone based firm used gangs of workers to catch chickens at farms across the UK. But the GLA’s investigation found those workers suffered exploitation so extreme that the Authority had to order the firm to stop supplying workers to farms and food factories immediately…Evidence obtained directly by the GLA identified that the mainly Lithuanian workers were subjected to threats and physical violence, housed in overcrowded accommodation, and lived in a climate of fear.  The workers were also charged excessive job finding fees, had pay stopped for the most spurious reasons and had to work without proper health and safety equipment…

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