LONDON — Two brothers who exploited Polish workers in Sports Direct’s controversial warehouse were jailed for six years under the Modern Slavery Act.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, Erwin and Krystian Markowski shipped Polish people, who were typically jobless or short of money, into the UK with the offer of travel, accommodation, and work at the budget clothes retailer’s Derbyshire warehouse.
Once the workers arrived, the brothers placed them in squalid housing conditions and seized their travel documents.
They were then employed through an agency at Sports Direct’s warehouse, but the Markowskis seized their bank cards and pocketed the bulk of each worker’s £265 ($331) weekly wage, leaving them with just £90 a week.
By controlling their finances and communications, and sometimes threatening violence, the brothers effectively enslaved the victims. It is thought to have been 18 victims in total during 2015 and early 2016.
At Nottingham Crown Court on Monday, the defendants pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to arrange travel with a view to exploitation and conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
They were later sentenced to six years each for the former count and two and a half years for the latter, to run concurrently.
The news represents a fresh blow to the reputation of the retailer, and particularly its Shirebrook warehouse. Allegations of harassment, abuse and illegal working practices in the Derbyshire plant have formed a central part of the criticism levelled against the company since a Guardian exposé caused widespread outrage last year when workers described working there as a “gulag.”
Janine Smith, Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS East Midlands, said in a statement: “The Markowskis preyed on vulnerable people in Poland and promised them accommodation and a tempting wage in order to lure them to the UK.
“The reality upon arrival was a life of squalid living conditions and near total control by the defendants.
“Modern slavery is a global issue that often goes unseen, but prosecutors and police are determined to take all possible steps to hold those responsible to account, regardless of borders.
“In this instance, the CPS was able to build a case that left the defendants with no option but to admit their guilt.”