A WEST Yorkshire factory owner who employed large numbers of Hungarians as a “slave workforce” in a bed-making firm which supplied retailers like John Lewis, Next and Dunelm Mill has been found guilty of people trafficking.
Mohammed Rafiq was found guilty of conspiracy to traffic at Leeds Crown Court, and will be sentenced next month.
A jury was told how an investigation into Kozee Sleep, based in Dewsbury, and its subsidiary Layzee Sleep, based in Batley, began after two Hungarians, Janos Orsos and Ferenc Illes, were arrested over human trafficking allegations.
Large numbers of Hungarian men were employed at Rafiq’s Kozee Sleep factory, supplied to them by Orsos.
At the beginning of the trial in October, prosecutor Christopher Tehrani QC said Rafiq knew Orsos’s organisation would source him “cheap slave labour to work at Kozee Sleep and Layzee Sleep factories”.
Mr Tehrani said Rafiq was “aware of the circumstances of the Hungarian nationals who were working at these sites and went along with their exploitation as a slave workforce”.
“The prosecution submits that this course of offending demonstrates a persistent campaign of exploitation involving many Hungarian men over a prolonged period of time.”
Rafiq, 60, of Thorncliffe Road, Staincliffe, denied a single count of conspiracy to traffic individuals within the UK.
The court said he will be sentenced on February 12.
Rafiq’s conviction is reported to be the first of a company boss for human trafficking offences in the UK.
The court heard how ethical audits by leading high street retailers failed to spot what was going on.
Mr Tehrani said the firm supplied companies including Next Plc, the John Lewis Partnership and Dunelm Mill.
He said: “As part of the contract, Kozee Sleep was required to adhere to each company’s policies re ethical trading, which included how they treated persons who worked on their premises.”
Mr Tehrani said each firm conducted regular ethical audits before May 2014 but he said: “Nothing untoward had been uncovered during those audits.”
The men were promised good wages, housing and food would be provided in the UK but, once in West Yorkshire, they found themselves living in shared, cramped and squalid accommodation with a large number of others.
They were made to work at the respective businesses and other places for long hours, working anything between 10 to 16 hours per day, five to seven days per week.
Prosecutors said the men received £10 to £20 per week plus each house they were living in would receive about £20 a day for food.
The jury was told how one man, Robert Bodo, came to Batley from Hungary in January 2010 and was taken to live in a property in the town called Gothic House where 40 to 50 people were living and he shared a room with three others.
Mr Tehrani said inspectors found the house was in “a horrendous state”.
Mr Bodo was at Kozee Sleep for three-and-a-half years where he worked a minimum of 60 hours a week or he had to do extra work somewhere else.
The prosecutor said he was paid £10 every Friday by Orsos. When he found out Orsos was being paid £3 an hour by the firm, Mr Bodo tried to leave but “couldn’t as Janos Orsos had his national insurance and bank card”.
Mark Kovacs came to the UK in January 2013 and was put in a two bedroom house in Rand Place, Bradford.
Mr Tehrani said: “There were mattresses in every room. During the four months he lived in this property, Mr Kovacs estimates that between 25 and 42 people were living in the premises at any one time.”
He was later moved to a three bedroom flat in Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, where, when he moved in, 30 people were living.
Mr Kovacs “escaped Mr Orsos’s clutches” with the help of a charity called Hope for Justice.
Janos Orsos and Ferenc Illes were jailed for five years and three years respectively in 2014 after admitting people trafficking offences.
Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson, of the West Yorkshire Police human trafficking unit, said: “Clearly we welcome the conviction of Mohammed Rafiq today. A great deal of time and effort has been invested by police and partners in mounting this prosecution and in securing today’s outcome in court.
“I hope this conviction demonstrates to victims of human trafficking that the police and authorities will act on their behalf and are prepared to support victims throughout the legal process to secure justice for them.”