Modern slavery ring victims start legal case against Biffa, Smart Solutions and FS Commercial
Victims of what has been described as the ‘largest-ever modern slavery ring uncovered in the UK’ have launched a legal case against Biffa Waste Services Limited, Smart Solutions and FS Commercial.
Posted on 13 January 2021
A pre-action protocol letter has been sent to the companies on behalf of three of the victims by law firm Leigh Day.
The individuals worked sorting rubbish for Biffa through Smart Solutions and the umbrella company, FS Commercial, in 2015 and 2016, while under the control of a criminal trafficking gang and received no money for their work.
They had travelled from Poland to the UK following promises of a decent wage and secure work in the West Midlands. Instead, when they arrived, they were taken to stay in squalid, overcrowded houses.
Bank accounts were opened in their names, which were controlled by the criminal gang and to which they had no access. The workers were registered at the recruitment agency, Smart Solutions, and then taken to work at Biffa. Their wages were paid into the bank accounts controlled by the criminal gang.
The claimants spoke little or no English. Their movements were controlled by the criminal gang and they were subject to threats and intimidation.
West Midlands Police carried out an extensive investigation, known as ‘Operation Fort’, and believe that more than 400 Polish individuals were victims of the criminal gang.
The claimants were among over 80 complainants in two criminal trials, which took place in 2018 and 2019. Eight members of the criminal gang were convicted of crimes including trafficking, conspiracy to require another to perform forced labour and money laundering and were sentenced to between 3 and 11 years in prison.
One of the criminal defendants, Natalia Zmuda, worked for Smart Solutions. Her role in the criminal conspiracy was to register victims with Smart Solutions and place them into work.
The letter to Biffa, Smart Solutions and FS Commercial says the companies have a duty to prevent forced labour in their workforce, including the forced labour to which the claimants were subjected by their traffickers, which occurred at and was intrinsically linked to their work. The claimants’ claim that the companies are vicariously liable for the actions of Natalia Zmuda, including harassment and unlawful intimidation.
Leigh Day solicitor Liana Wood represents the claimants. She said:
“Our clients have been through horrific experiences at the hands of an organised and far reaching criminal gang. The perpetrators of these crimes have been convicted, but our clients believe that answers still need to be sought about the structures that enabled this exploitation to take place in plain sight.
“Our clients’ case is that companies have a duty to prevent modern slavery in their workplace: it is very unlikely that these crimes could have taken place if proper procedures had been in place to prevent them. It appears that a blind eye was turned while vulnerable people went through these terrible ordeals.”