UK: High Court rules employers personally liable for exploitation

A high court ruling in the UK has found that bosses of trafficked workers may be held personally liable for treatment of victims. The judge had “no doubt whatsoever” that the defendants had full awareness they were breaching the company’s legal obligations.

"There is no iota of credible evidence that either defendants possessed an honest belief that what they were doing would not involve such a breach. At all material times, each knew exactly what he or she was doing."

The prosecutors in the historic case were eleven Lithuanian men trafficked into the UK and forced into work on chicken farms. The group accused their employers of trafficking, beatings and labour exploitation and defendants, Darrell Houghton and company secretary Jacqueline Judge, were found guilty on charges of withholding wages and failing to ensure adequate living and working conditions.

Mary Westmacott, the senior solicitor who represented the victims said that in the past it has been much easier to show a company as liable, but prosecuting individuals proved difficult.

"This case makes it clear that if you're an officer or a director exploiting workers, you may be personally liable for that exploitation and you cannot hide behind the company," She said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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Sonja Duncan