Avoiding Slavery on Construction Sites

Avoiding Slavery on Construction Sites

19th November 2018

Most of us here in the UK view slavery as an embarrassing and unacceptable part of American and British history, something that happened way back in the past.  The Slavery Abolition Act of 1883 saw Britain abolishing slavery, followed by the French colonies in 1848 and the US in 1865 (following the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution).  However, you may have heard the term “slavery” in some UK news reports in recent years and several of these instances have involved the construction industry!  In fact, our government announced in July that it was planning to launch an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to make sure that our legislation is up to date when it comes to this hideous crime.

The announcement came as the Home Office published a new report called “Economic and Social Costs of Modern Slavery”, which revealed that modern slavery costs the UK more than £4 billion annually.  So, what’s going on?

Well, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) welcomed the government’s announcement of an independent review  as it’s published its own report – “Construction and the Modern Slavery Act:  Tackling Exploitation in the UK” in which it revealed that around 16 million people were in forced labour in the private sector in 2016.  Whilst most of these people are doing domestic work, the construction sector ranks second when it comes to forced labour and some construction companies have demonstrated complacency and a lack of understanding of the issues involved in modern slavery.  However, any organisations breaching the Modern Slavery Act are likely to suffer severe consequences.

In order to understand the Modern Slavery Act, the following are all illegal:

  • Slavery – where ownership is exercised over a person
  • Servitude – an obligation to provide services imposed by coercion
  • Forced or compulsory labour – work or services gained from a person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself voluntarily
  • Human trafficking – arranging or facilitating a person’s travel with a view to exploiting them, even if the victim consents to the travel.

When it comes to the construction sector, migrant workers may have been forced to work by somebody to whom they owe debts, or to those who have been duped into working by fake recruitment adverts.  Modern slavery may also apply in cases where vulnerable UK citizens are coerced in some way to work in construction.  When it comes to spotting these workers, there are some signs construction managers should look out for:

  • Unusually high levels of fatigue and tiredness
  • Malnourishment
  • Badly damaged personal protective equipment (PPE).

Taking on temporary labour means that construction company owners and managers should perform due diligence to make sure workers are being recruited in the correct manner.  Supply chains should be analysed too, if possible.  If hiring via a recruitment company, look at where the money is going – is it going direct to the workers or is there an agency or intermediary who is paid and claims to be paying the workers?  If so, what assurances do you have that the workers actually receive the money? 

Asking a few simple questions is all it takes to make sure that the workers you hire are not being exploited by a third party and to make sure that you don’t fall foul of the Modern Slavery Act.