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Slave workforce: Kozee Sleep bed factory owner Mohammed Rafiq jailed for people trafficking after forcing Hungarians to live in squalor and work 80 hour weeks for £10

Rafiq is said to be the first company boss convicted of human trafficking offences in the UK

A factory owner who employed large numbers of Hungarians as a “slave workforce” to supply beds to top high-street retailers has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for people trafficking.

The conviction of “pillar of the community” Mohammed Rafiq is reported to be the first of a company boss for human trafficking offences in the UK.

The 60-year-old sourced the Hungarian nationals at his bed-making factory, Kozee Sleep, in Dewsbury, for cheap slave labour, making them work up to 16 hours a day for as little as £10 per week.

Inside the Kozee bed factory

Rafiq, who was described as having “a spectacular fall from grace” within his religious community, was aware of the men’s circumstances yet went along with their exploitation as a slave workforce.

His firm Kozee Sleep and its subsidiary Layzee Sleep, in Batley, were to supply household names including Next Plc, the John Lewis Partnership and Dunelm Mill who despite carrying out regular ethical audits failed to spot what was going on.

Inside the Kozee bed factory

As part of the defendant’s contract with the companies he was required to adhere to each of their policies regarding ethical trading, including how persons who worked on their premises were treated.

One of the victims said he said he felt “helpless” and “vulnerable” and like a prisoner during his time at the bed-making firm.

The man was promised work and told he could earn good wages in England.

Lorne Campbell / Guzelian Mohammed Rafiq leaving Leeds Crown Court on Friday February 12
Mohammed Rafiq leaving Leeds Crown Court on Friday February 12

But when he arrived, he was told he would have to work to pay off his travel expenses and would receive just £10 per week and a packet of tobacco.

He found himself working 10 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, packaging mattresses and loading lorries, while living with around a dozen other people in a small three-bedroom house.

Cramped conditions for the bed firm workers employed by Rafiq
Cramped conditions for the bed firm workers employed by Rafiq

He said he tried to save what little money he was given for food but often relied on friends bringing him meals.

The man said: “This is not what he had promised us in Hungary.

Lorne Campbell / Guzelian Mohammed Rafiq leaving Leeds Crown Court on Friday February 12
Mohammed Rafiq leaving Leeds Crown Court on Friday February 12

“He said we had to work off what we earned, we had to work off the travel expenses and this had to be done in stages and, at this point, I felt deceived.

“I felt awful about this. I felt helpless.”

Read more: People trafficker Mohammed Rafiq to be sentenced

Read more: '£10 a week wage and 40 living in one house' - Bed firm Kozee Sleep employed 'slave workforce', court hears

At Leeds Crown Court Judge Christopher Batty said that having listened to the evidence of witnesses during the trial, it was apparent “just how upset and how affected the witnesses were and the number of them who were reduced to tears”.

An investigation into the trafficking began at the Dewsbury-based firm and its subsidiary after two Hungarians, Janos Orsos and Ferenc Illes, were arrested over human trafficking allegations.

Janos Orsos (left) and Ferenc Illes were jailed for five years and three years

Rafiq, of Thorncliffe Road, Staincliffe, was convicted in January of a single count of conspiracy to traffic individuals within the UK.

Meanwhile, detectives who investigated Kozee Sleep say big firms are learning quickly how to spot labour exploitation in their suppliers after failing to discover what was happening in Dewsbury.

Lorne Campbell / Guzelian Mohammed Rafiq leaving Leeds Crown Court on Friday February 12
Mohammed Rafiq leaving Leeds Crown Court on Friday February 12

The trial of Mohammed Rafiq was told how the bed-making company supplied household names like Next, John Lewis and Dunelm Mill but none of these companies picked up what was going on in their audits.

Cramped conditions for the bed firm workers employed by Rafiq

Det Insp Andy Leonard said that, until recently, both the police and big companies thought labour exploitation of this type was something that happened abroad and firms were not looking for it in their inspections.

He said the Rafiq case - which he believes is the first time a factory boss has been prosecuted for trafficking - has changed the way companies audit their suppliers.

Living conditions for the Hungarian workers employed at bedding firm

Mr Leonard said: “Three or four years ago the phenomenon of trafficking and slave labour was relatively unknown so, although they did checks in the bedding companies, they weren’t necessarily looking for, or even understood, the indicators of trafficking.

“Without a doubt the major companies have definitely changed. I think they, and we, understood that this happened abroad and not under our own feet.

“But we’ve learned very quickly and we’ve passed on our learning to these companies.”

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