Three men from South Tyneside who were part of a criminal gang running a modern day slavery business has been put behind bars for a total of 32 years.
The £1m illegal business exploited migrant workers who were enticed to the UK from Poland with the promise of well paid work.
Sabastian Mandzik, 40, was the "linchpin" of an illegal family firm, run alongside relatives Robert Majewski, 45, Pawel Majewski, 27, and Seweryn Szmyt, 20.
Newcastle Crown Court heard once the employees entered the country, they were taken to get national insurance numbers and bank accounts but forced to hand over all of their paper work.
The vulnerable men and women were then sent to do heavy work at refuse and recycling plants across the North East of England and given just a few pounds to live on, while being put up in run-down accommodation with not even a mattress
to sleep on and having to scavenge for food.
The court heard the workers were forced to put up with their bleak plights through force, humiliation and threats to themselves and their families, while their "dignity and self respect" was stripped from them.
A judge said the case involved "human beings being deliberately degraded" and included the victims being spat at if they complained about their situation.
During the illegal plot, from June 2014 until last September, when one of the workers found the courage to phone the police, the gang had laundered £1m through the workers' bank accounts.
Mandzik, Szmyt, and Pawel Majewski, all of Percy Street, Jarrow, and Robert Majewski, of Ilford Road, London, were all convicted of conspiracy to require persons to perform forced labour and conspiracy to transfer criminal propert
after a trial by jury.
Mandzik was also convicted by the jury of conspiring to arrange or facilitate travel of another with a view of that person being exploited.
Mandzik was jailed for 12 years, Robert Majewski for eight years, Pawel Majewski for seven years and Szmyt for five years.
All four, who the judge said were "extraordinarily devious", and were also made the subject of anti-slavery and trafficking prevention orders to control their future behaviour.
Judge Stephen Ashurst told the men: "Throughout the ages vulnerable people have been exploited and, despite the efforts of reforms to outlaw slavery, it has not been eradicated and continues to thrive in various parts of the world.
"Sadly, as this case has demonstrated, the exploitation of such people continues in our country."
The court heard the workers, who had vulnerabilities and problems, were enticed to the UK with the promise of a wage four-times that they could earn in Poland, with minor deductions for accommodation and agency fees.
But the judge said some workers had to "roam the streets looking for discarded mattresses as there was nothing else on which they could lay their heads on in the properties" and some were seen taking discarded sweets from the refuse and recycling depots they were forced to work at, as it was their only means of food.
Judge Ashurst told the gang; "It really is quite outrageous adult men and women were being paid a matter of a few pounds for work and the vast bulk of their wages was being managed by you and your criminal associates."
The judge said the slavery scam involved "many, many workers" over it's duration and he said they were forced to put up with their plights by " a combination of threats, intimidation and use of physical violence on occasion".
Judge Ashurst added; "When they complained they were either physically assaulted, spat at or told, somehow, you and your associates would get to them or their families back in Poland.
"This sort of intimidation cannot be tolerated in civilised society"
Detective Superintendent Steve Barron, of Northumbria Police, said: "Protecting vulnerable people is an absolute priority and I'm pleased these men have been jailed for exploiting people who were coerced into the country on the promise of well-paid work.
"Unfortunately, once here they were forced to live in horrible conditions and carry out work for little or no pay. This investigation has been a genuine multi-agency effort which has helped make the victims of this offending safe and punish those responsible.
“The victims are now in safe locations and are being supported by specialists from partner agencies and our officers.
"Sadly we know this is an increasing issue not just here in Northumbria but across the country and continent.
"It is important that we work together with not only our partners but the community. We all have a responsibility to help protect those who may be vulnerable and we believe that Safeguarding is everyone's business.
"We urge people to be the eyes and ears of the community and if you see something suspicious or something that doesn't feel right then please report it to police”.