Police have charged Mohammed Rafiq and two of his employees with conspiracy to facilitate travel within the UK for exploitation
Police have charged Mohammed Rafiq and two of his employees with conspiracy to facilitate travel within the UK for exploitation Reuters

The owner of a bed factory that supplied major retailers, including Next and John Lewis, has reportedly become the first head of a UK company to be charged with human trafficking offences.

Mohammed Rafiq, who owns Kozeesleep, and two of his employees have been charged with conspiracy to facilitate travel within the UK for exploitation, according to the Sunday Times.

Staff supplied to Kozeesleep in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, were forced to work for less than £2 a day.

Authorities were alerted in 2011, when a 20-year-old trafficking victim contacted charity Hope for Justice. The charity helped the man to escape to a safe house, leading to the escape of more victims.

West Yorkshire police launched Operation Tavernhouse, which resulted in the conviction of Hungarian traffickers Janos Orsos, 43, and Ferenc Illes, 25, in May.

The traffickers' Hungarian victims survived on scraps of food, with up to 42 men living in a single two-bedroom house. They worked for up to 20 hours a day and were paid as little as £10 a week.

One of their victims was paid just £30 for more than 21 weeks' work. He was also severely undernourished and lost more than 22lb in weight. Police said the victims had essentially been kept as slaves.

A lawyer for Kozeesleep told Next that Orsos had threatened staff until they handed over their wages, and that the salaries of some temporary staff were paid directly to Orsos, according to the Sunday Times.

Orsos and Illes were given five and three-year prison sentences respectively.

Rafiq has been bailed and will appear before magistrates in December. Both John Lewis and Next have now terminated their contracts with his companies.

Kevin Hyland, the UK's new anti-slavery commissioner, said: "This should act as a warning to UK firms. If evidence arises that companies are using slaves in Britain, then they will be targeted by our law enforcement agencies."

Kozeesleep's latest accounts show that it had a turnover of £18m last year, with profits of £186,000.