What is it?
The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are around 136,000 people living in modern slavery in the UK. Slavery is a term used to describe a situation where a person is effectively ‘owned’ and exploited by others.
With its fragmented supply chain, intricate procurement processes and high demand for migrant labour, the construction sector is highly vulnerable to modern slavery. Reliance on labour agencies, without proper due diligence of those providers, creates conditions under which forced labour can occur. Indeed, when split by industry construction ranks second only to domestic work for incidences of this abuse.
Although no respectable business would choose to be associated with human rights abuses and exploitation, they often infiltrate and remain hidden in supply chains.
The legal implications for your business?
The UK Modern Slavery Act requires organisations with a turnover greater than £36 million to publicly report on how they are dealing with human rights issues in their supply chains. This does not mean that smaller companies, and their individual directors, do not have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the sites they work upon and oversee are free from any instances of forced labour.
Though the number one priority for the police and Crown Prosecution Service is to prosecute criminals, there are many instances when secondary legal action has been taken against the main contractor. For this to happen the contractor does not have to be judged to have been complicit, the fact they could have done more to identify or stop it is often enough to bring a prosecution.
Two of the UK’s leading prosecutors in this field recently said;
“Our priority is not to go for legitimate employers that have been duped by criminals. However if they have been negligent and not even bothered to understand the implications and subtleties of this, if they don’t have a modicum of self-awareness, we and the GLAA may take a view of filing for prosecution”
“… it’s about corporate responsibility…. It’s a bit like corporate manslaughter. There comes a point at which the company needs to explain its corporate and personal involvement in preventing (offences) or be considered wilfully blind.”
There is no such thing as a typical victim of modern slavery, however if it is occurring on your site you can increase the chances of identification by being vigilant to:
- Requests for all of a team’s wages to be paid directly to the gang master.
- Physical appearance of workers. For example; wearing inadequate or damaged clothing or equipment or not wearing all the necessary personal protective equipment.
- Continuing to work with painful injuries or showing unusually high signs of fatigue.
- Personal hygiene, look out for people that are scruffier than normal. It’s easy to get dirty and dusty on a building site, but the following morning, most workers will have had a shower and will look clean again.
- A reluctance to make eye contact, or refusal to communicate or engage with anyone else – even with their own language speakers. It’s easy to chalk this up as shyness or anti-social behaviour and it often is. Sometime however the cause is much more serious.
Some signs are less obvious for example someone else paying for their travel, speaking for them or workers being picked up and dropped off from work at unusual times.
What can you do?
To protect against incidents within your supply chain or on your site you can;
- Deliver a human trafficking toolbox talk on site to help all workers identify and report modern slavery
- Download one of the many credit card sized human trafficking reporting cards available freely online. Share these with workers at induction stage and place these around the site in communal areas.
- Define a process to ensure your supply chain is conducting right to work checks and can also carry out similar spot checks.
- Appoint anti-slavery ambassadors
- Encourage more open conversations with suppliers
- Set realistic prices
- Talk to staff, especially agency workers, to check that they haven’t had to pay fees to secure employment.
All suspected instances of modern slavery can be reported to the National Crime Agency via their specialist helpline on 08000 121 700 or the police through their 101 service.
Modern slavery and illegal migrant labour are closely related. Employers have a duty to prevent illegal working in the UK by carrying out prescribed document checks on people before employing them to ensure they are lawfully allowed to work.
About RK Henshall Chartered Insurance Brokers.
Established in 1976 R K Henshall remain an independent, chartered insurance broker. We specialise in helping those who work in construction with their insurance and risk needs. We currently advice contractors large and small from piling to roofers. With over 40 years’ experience of helping those in your industry we have likely worked with businesses in the same field as your own.
Please get in touch by calling 01270 758070 or contact us.