Slavery isn't just a thing of the past

Gemma Workman

Gemma Workman

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Small businesses across Shropshire must guard against modern slavery in their own supply chains or face serious consequences.

That’s the warning from Gemma Workman, an employment law specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, who said it wasn’t just big business that could be at risk.

She said the Modern Slavery Act had been in force for almost exactly 12 months, and the first company had now been found liable for modern slavery among its suppliers.

“Many experts had predicted that a major corporation would be the first to be prosecuted, but in fact it was a small business that was first to break the rules.

“The company involved sent six Lithuanian men they had hired to catch chickens on farms around the UK. But rather than pay the men the correct minimum wage for their hours, the company paid them based on the number of chickens they caught.

“The men claimed they had been trafficked into the UK and that they were exploited and forced to work and live in appalling conditions.”

Miss Workman said the High Court upheld the men’s claims, saying the company had failed to pay them the correct minimum wage; had charged the men fees to find them work (which is illegal); unlawfully withheld wages; and deprived the men of welfare facilities to wash, rest, eat and drink.

“The men were each awarded compensation – the amount of which is yet to be decided, but it is expected to run into thousands of pounds.”

She said all businesses – no matter what their size – should be aware of the possibility of modern slavery in their supply chains, and they should take steps to wipe it out.

“Only businesses with a global turnover of over £36 million are legally obliged to publish what steps they have taken to ensure modern slavery is not present within their company or supply chains.

“But even if your turnover is under £36 million, you are still required to eradicate modern slavery in every element of your operation.

“Many businesses with a turnover below the limit voluntarily publish details of their procedures, and the Government has produced free guidance on the topic to help companies comply with the legislation.

“You may not even have considered that issues such as modern slavery or trafficking could be linked to your business, but it’s your responsibility as an employer to double check and keep things above board.”

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