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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: ‘Freedom Food’ gangmasters lose licence for alleged human trafficking


A gangmaster company that is a member of the RSPCA’s ‘Freedom Food’ welfare scheme has had its licence revoked on suspicion of human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation.

According to the Guardian, a 52-year old man and 50-year old woman from the company, which cannot be named for legal reasons, were arrested in a dawn raid on a house in Kent last night.
They were later released on bail pending further enquiries, on condition that they did not attempt to contact the more than 30 Lithuanian workers in their employ who were hired out to Noble Foods, one of the UK’s largest processors of chicken and eggs.
Noble Foods supplies premium free range eggs to Tesco, Marks & Spencer and McDonalds. It also sells eggs under the ‘Woodland’ brand to Sainsbury’s and to a number of other leading retailers under the Happy Eggs and Freedom Food brands.
The workers are alleged to have been trafficked to the UK before being freed following a joint operation earlier this month by Kent police, the Gangmaster Licensing Authority and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
They were said to have been kept in debt bondage, forced to work shifts of up to 17 hours without training or safety equipment, made to sleep in vans for days at a time and sometimes denied their wages over minor infractions such as leaving a dirty cup in the kitchen.
Trafficking on the rise
The workers, who as European Union nationals are legally entitled to work in the UK, also allege that Lithuanian enforcers were used by the gangmasters to keep them under control with physical and verbal abuse and violence.
When Noble Foods was asked by the newspaper what measures it took to ensure that standards were maintained for its workers rather than just the chickens in its supply chain, the firm said in a statement that it was “one of many companies within the poultry industry that has used [this gangmaster]”.
It added: “After being notified of the action taken by Kent police, we immediately ceased using this organisation. As the police investigation is on-going, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”
The gangmasters also declined to comment because of the police investigation, while the various retailers named all said that they took the situation very seriously and were co-operating with the enforcement agencies.
According to a report published last week by the government’s Inter-departmental Ministerial Group, the number of people being trafficked to the UK is on the rise, with nearly 1,000 suspected victims being referred to the National Referral Mechanism last year compared to just over 700 in 2010.
Trafficking for labour exploitation is a significant and growing category here, accounting for nearly a quarter of all human trafficking cases.
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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