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'Chicken collecting migrant workers trafficked, beaten'

02 November 2012

The Guardian website is reporting that a gangmaster company which provided teams of migrant workers to dozens of large chicken farms in a chain that supplies premium free range eggs to McDonald's, Tesco, Asda and M&S, "Woodland" eggs to Sainsbury's, and the Freedom Food and Happy Eggs brands to leading retailers had its licence revoked with immediate effect by the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA)

The action followed a joint operation earlier this month by Kent police, the GLA and the Serious Organised Crime Agency to liberate more than 30 Lithuanian workers who are alleged to have been trafficked in to the UK, the Guardian online reported.

The Guardian said the workers were kept in debt bondage, forced to work up to 17 hours a shift, bussed to farms the length of the country to catch hens through the night, sleeping for days at a time only in vans, in some weeks not paid at all, and, according to workers' testimony, kept under control by Lithuanian enforcers with threats of violence and on occasions actual physical assault.

''A 52-year-old man and a 50-year-old woman from the company, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were arrested in a dawn raid on a Grade II listed house in Kent on suspicion of human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation,'' said the Guardian.

''They were later released on bail, whose terms included a ban on them contacting the workers, pending further inquiries. The gangmaster company is a member of Freedom Food, the welfare scheme licensed by the RSPCA. Six dogs, including some fighting breeds, which the migrants claim were used to intimidate them, were taken from a separate property into the care of a local branch of the RSPCA.

''The migrants, who as EU nationals are legally entitled to work in the UK, were transferred to a reception centre by the UK Human Trafficking Centre where those who wanted it were given support by the Salvation Army.

''The gangmaster business supplied workers to Noble Foods, one of the UK's largest processors of eggs and chickens. Noble is currently promoting its happy eggs on primetime television with an advert that shows its hens leaping for joy to the Olympian soundtrack of Chariots of Fire.''

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