GLA and Freedom Farm suspend gangmaster company
A gangmaster company which was a member of Freedom Food welfare scheme has its license to operate revoked by the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA) on suspicion of human trafficking for labour exploitation, and has also been suspended from Freedom Foods.
DJ Houghton Catching Services, which supplied migrant workers to chicken farms, had its license suspended after a police operation earlier this month, which was run in conjunction with the GLA and Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) freed 30 Lithuanian workers from an address in Kent. Two people were arrested for alledgedly trafficking the workers into the UK in order to exploit them on the labour market and subjecting them to gross intimidation while maintaining very poor working and living conditions. They were released on police bail and the investigation is ongoing.
Liam Vernon, deputy Head of the UK Human Trafficking Centre at the Serious Organised Crime Agency, had said that the men, who were primarily used to catch chickens, “were subjected to slave-like conditions and controlled through the use of violence”.
A statement from Freedom Foods said: “In line with the scheme rules, DJ Houghton Catching Services have been suspended from the scheme as of 30 October, pending the outcome of legal proceedings that are currently ongoing. Should these shocking allegations regarding workers at the site prove to be true, then the business’s membership of Freedom Food will be withdrawn”
The scheme says that it is the direct responsibility of any Freedom Food member to ensure that they and their staff adhere to required RSPCA animal welfare standards, but a spokesman could not comment on what measures will be taken by the scheme to ensure that workers employed by a member are protected. She added that where a member does anything which would bring Freedom Food or the RSPCA into disrepute then there measures for suspending or cancelling a business’s membership of the scheme.
The rules for hen catching teams are laid out by the scheme, with responsibility for ensureing that the team understand the welfare requirements resting on the leaders and senior members who are assessed by Freedom Food and subject to spot checks from a RSPCA farm livestock officer.
Noble Foods, one of the egg and poultry companies who used the gangmaster company, said that it ceased to use the company after Kent Police notified them of the investigation. On its website it states that it utilises “a widespread Freedom Food approved national catching and collection network”, with a dedicated fleet of GPS tracked modular collection vehicles delivering directly into its abattoir and butchery operation.
At the time of the arrests, Ian Livsey, chief executive of the GLA said: “We are determined to drive out those ruthless people who abuse and exploit vulnerable workers. Working with our partner agencies we have cracked down on potential exploitation in the food supply chain. There is no hiding place for those who exploit the vulnerable, and neither we nor our partner law enforcement agencies will tolerate abuse of the vulnerable worker.”
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- vehicles delivering directly
- modular collection vehicles
- collection vehicles delivering