Two brothers who trafficked vulnerable men from Poland to work in a Sports Direct warehouse have been jailed for six years each under the Modern Slavery Act.
Erwin Markowski, 38, and his brother Krystian, 35, lured 18 men from Poland to work at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse, Nottingham crown court heard.
The duo employed a “spotter” in Poland to identify vulnerable people who could be sent to the UK on the promise of work. When the men arrived, the Markowski brothers opened bank accounts on their behalf and withdrew most of their income from working at Shirebrook.
The workers, who had their passports taken from them, were left with about £90 from weekly takehome pay that should have been £265, the court heard. The brothers, who made £35,000 from the scheme, were caught after one of the victims tipped off police, triggering a raid on a home in the city.
The victim said he had been living in the house with 10 other men, who were also working at Sports Direct. Judge Steven Coupland said the men were “filled with false promises of a good life in the UK where they would be assisted […] to receive a decent job, pay and decent accommodation”.
He said the arrangement “became a planned and systematic scheme to traffic human beings into the UK in order for you to control them and benefit from their hard work, making substantial sums of money, living in good conditions while they received very little and lived in poorer conditions”.
DC Sarah Fearn of Nottinghamshire police said victims were left feeling “used, distressed and manipulated”.
A spokesperson for Sports Direct said: “We welcome the conviction of these two individuals, who were brought to justice after being reported to police by the Transline agency and Sports Direct in February 2016. It sends a clear message that we will not tolerate these kinds of behaviour.”
The men were sent to Shirebrook via Transline, an outsourcing group that supplied agency staff to Sports Direct.
A spokesperson for Transline said: “These two brothers have no association to Transline,” adding that the firm had reported complaints of exploitation related to the case to the police.
“We have stringent and thorough checks in place on identities and bank and payment details to prevent this type of criminal activity, and find any instances deplorable and cruel.”
But Britain’s biggest trade union, Unite, called for an investigation into the employment firm.
The Unite assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, said: “The behaviour and the misery meted out by the Markowski brothers on vulnerable workers would shame a Dickens novel. It is all the more shocking that it took place in 21st-century Britain in the warehouse of a high street retailer.
“There now needs to by a full scale investigation into Transline’s behaviour and employment practices.”
The Markowski brothers admitted one charge of conspiracy to arrange or facilitate travel with a view to exploitation, an offence under the Modern Slavery Act.
They were also sentenced to two years and six months for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, an offence under the Fraud Act.