Workers at Ethically-Raised Chicken Farms Apparently Victims of Human Trafficking

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REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Chickens run in snow at Sinnington, northern England.

In a horrifying and ridiculously ironic tale of abuse and misbehavior, a British company licensed by the RSPCA’s Freedom Food program to work on poultry farms is allegedly guilty of human rights violations. Local police, together with the U.K. Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) and the British agency that regulates agricultural industry employees, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), revealed in October that workers at one company that helped to collect ethically raised chickens were apparently themselves victims of human trafficking and beatings.

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The company, which cannot be named for legal reasons as the criminal investigation continues, helped to provide eggs to McDonalds as well as leading British supermarkets. It had its gangmasters license revoked last week by the GLA after allegations that it kept workers in debt bondage,  among a series of other claims, according to a report in the Guardian.

According to the RSPCA website, Freedom Food is “the only UK farm assurance scheme to focus solely on improving the welfare of farm animals reared for food.”

Kent police arrested two individuals from the company earlier in October, and a spokeswoman for the police confirmed to TIME that they were released on bail until April 5 2013. She added that the criminal investigation continues into trafficking offenses allegedly committed by the pair. Neither have been been charged.

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The arrest came after allegations that workers at the factory were being kept in slave-like conditions. Kent police confirm that roughly 29 Lithuanian men have been identified as human trafficking victims as part of their investigation. As Lithuanian nationals, the workers are in fact entitled to work in the UK as they are part of the European Union.  However it is believed they were forcibly kept under control by other Lithuanian enforcers with threats of physical violence.

The workers reportedly said that they had been told that these would be well-paid jobs back in Lithuania, but  earned substantially less than what they were first told after deductions, taking in less than $150 a week.

Responding to the Guardian’s questions, RSPCA Freedom Food explained that while there are currently no labor rights provisions in its license terms, “should these shocking allegations regarding workers prove to be true then Freedom Food would enact this provision.”

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2 comments
elrondmiddleeng
elrondmiddleeng like.author.displayName 1 Like

Normajeanalmodovar I do like your reply. Unfortunately what you say is so true. We spend our time persecuting sex workers and their clients, we don't consult with them, we don't allow them to work openly, and guess what, there is abuse, they can't report crime and criminals thrive.

normajeanalmodovar
normajeanalmodovar

There is only one thing to do to stop this horrendous abuse of forced labor- End the Demand for eggs, for produce, for commercially made garments, for any product which may be produced by slave labor! If it works to stop 'sex trafficking' it will work for these poor victims! I mean, if human trafficking is something we as a society should work to eliminate, we must use drastic measures to do so. Everyone must clean their own homes, (to stop trafficking into domestic servitude), raise their own chickens for eggs, grow their own vegetables, bake their own bread, sew their own clothing from the cotton and other fabric they themselves make. If you want a computer- make one yourself. Want an 80" flat screen TV made by some poor trafficked victim in China? Forget it!  No more iPhones, iPads, or any other electronic gadget unless you build it yourself.  If we don't do this, it means that millions of people around the world will continue to be victims of modern day slavery and how can we have that on our consciences?

And please don't tell me that a better way to help stop these abuses is to raise the wages or to make the working conditions safer and more transparent as well as providing better access to the criminal justice system to victims... because if THAT were the solution, WHY wouldn't we do that for sex workers? I say arrest all the potential victims and force them to testify against their traffickers! If it is good enough to stop sex trafficking, it is good enough for all other forms of human trafficking!