Biffa modern slavery case: 8 things you need to know

Legal firm Leigh Day is seeking compensation on behalf of three victims of modern slavery who worked at a recycling plant owned by waste giant Biffa. Here’s what you need to know.

At least three of the victims worked sorting rubbish for Biffa in 2015. Photograph: Getty Images At least three of the victims worked sorting rubbish for Biffa in 2015. Photograph: Getty Images

1 Britain’s ‘largest modern slavery ring’ was uncovered after a three-year investigaiton by police

In 2019, eight members of a Polish criminal gang were convicted of crimes including trafficking, conspiracy to require another to perform forced labour and money laundering. They were sentenced to between three and 11 years in prison. 

Police began investigating in February 2015, after two victims escaped their captors and it emerged the gang had trafficked more than 400 Polish individuals.

2 A number of the victims worked at a Biffa recycling plant

At least three of the victims worked sorting rubbish for Biffa in 2015 and 2016, while under the control of the trafficking gang.

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 and forced to work for as little as £10 a week.

3 The waste sector is particularly susceptible to modern slavery

The case against Biffa did not come as a surprise. ENDS has long been reporting that the waste sector has a problem with modern slavery, with evidence suggesting that two-thirds of modern slavery victims in the UK have been active in the waste industry.

4 The problem is being exacerbated by the pandemic

As sectors such as the hospitality industry are forced to close down due to restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19, anti-trafficking charity Hope For Justice is concerned that more modern slavery victims may be being trafficked into the waste sector, which is continuing to operate.

5 Biffa has said it is working to raise awareness of the of modern slavery in the waste sector

It became a founding member of the Slave-Free Alliance in 2018, which is part of Hope for Justice, and launched a campaign last year where it rebranded its trucks with anti-slavery messages.

The firm has also put a number of measures in place to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2015 and 2016. These include only procuring under the code of ethics of the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply. 

READ MORE: Did Biffa ‘turn a blind eye’ to modern slavery in its workforce?

6 But lawyers have accused Biffa of ‘turning a blind eye’ to modern slavery within its own business 

Liana Wood, the solicitor acting on behalf of the victims for Leigh Day, said they believed that Biffa should have had procedures in place to prevent forced labour in their workplaces.

“Our clients’ case is that there are steps which could have easily been taken in order to do so, such as checking that workers retained their own identity documents, controlled their own bank accounts and received money paid for their work,” she said.

7 Three of the victims are claiming compensation from Biffa 

Leigh Day sent a pre-action protocol letter to Biffa in January, as well as the recruitment. If compensation is not forthcoming, Leigh Day says it will issue “claims for negligence, vicarious liability for intentional torts, breach of contract and restitution claims in the High Court”.

Leigh Day is launching parallel proceedings against Smart Solutions, the employment agency which placed the workers in jobs in Biffa recycling plants.

“Our three clients wish to receive compensation, including the wages they should have received and for personal injuries arising from their trafficking and forced labour,” it said.

8 Biffa denies all allegations

Michael Topham, Biffa’s chief executive of Biffa has told ENDS while he was unable to comment on the specifics of the legal case as it is still ongoing, “all allegations against Biffa are denied and will be defended in any court proceedings”.