Forced labour

The danger within: facing up to forced labour in the UK construction industry

There’s a misconception in the developed world that slavery is a thing of the past. Ironically, it’s perhaps due to that misconception that the archaic exploitation of construction workers has silently been allowed to prosper within the industry’s direct business operations and supply chains.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are 21 million people in forced labour around the world, generating a staggering $150 billion profit in the private economy. 13,000 modern slaves are currently employed in the UK. Alarmingly, many of the businesses perpetuating and profiting from this practice don’t even know it’s happening. Forced labour is hidden in plain sight. Forced labour is the silent threat of the construction industry.

Since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015, slavery in global supply chains has become an increasing concern for the UK construction industry. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) recently mounted a joint operation with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) targeting construction sites across London. In view of the rise in detected cases of forced labour in the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged last July to spend £33 million on tackling modern slavery.

Legislation and enforcement represent a start. But like all hidden threats, the problem needs to be fought from within. So what can you do to identify and prevent these practices within your organisation?

  • Ask where your labour is coming from. Audit your supply chain and ensure all your suppliers are working within the law.
  • Look out for unusual practices. If payment for a number of workers is going into a single account or workers are being dropped off and collected at the same time, the chances are that something isn’t right.
  • Find out what your suppliers are doing to monitor and manage this issue. This not only keeps you in line with the law but also helps to shut off supply avenues for exploitative individuals.
  • Ensure you have flags in place to raise awareness of illegal activity and the action employees should take if they see anything suspicious.

At Carbon60, we feel the industry can do a lot more to tackle this issue. By highlighting the risks involved and raising awareness among your employees and suppliers, you can help to direct the industry’s gaze to illegal practices that are happening right under its nose.

We carry out relevant background checks on all our candidates to validate their identity, their legality and their skills. If you’d like to talk to us about bringing in the right people for your business, please get in touch.

You can find more information on forced labour, illegal trafficking and other forms of third party exploitation from the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and Stronger Together.

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