The picture of modern slavery in the UK construction industry is “… uncomfortable to say the least…” according to a recent CIOB report into the issue and compliance with the Modern Slavery Act.
The arrest of eight people in east London last week following a series of raids on a Romanian slave labour gang (which reportedly focused on human trafficking for the purpose of exploitation in the construction industry) is a practical reminder of the occurrence of modern slavery in the sector. The CIOB report also highlights that there is growing evidence of rogue operators entering the “formal economy” around tiers four and five of industry supply chains.
The CIOB views UK construction business as being particularly vulnerable to exploitation. It highlights heavy reliance on migrant labour, complicated and complex supply chains, cut price tendering and low profit margin as contributing factors. Having identified these and other causes the report focuses on steps which can be taken to tackle them.
Investigation into the industry’s response to the Modern Slavery Act and associated reporting requirements also shows that compliance is not great. The report indicates that roughly 30 per cent of eligible companies in the construction sector publish annual transparency in supply chain statements (which is on a par with mining, quarrying, manufacturing and accommodation providers). However, analysis suggests that those firms are “lagging behind” in terms of content as statements tend to focus on business structures and policies relating to slavery whilst information about risk assessments, monitoring, training and remedial action is lagging.
The resounding take away from the report is that there is more to be done.
Construction and the Modern Slavery Act, Tackling Exploitation in the UK was published in 2018 and criticised the industry’s slow response to the Modern Slavery Act. The report highlighted the aggressive business models that create an environment for unethical procurement and recruitment practices, and the systematic auditing failures that allow criminals to infiltrate major projects undetected.