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Slavery in the UK construction industry – a modern problem?

April 2017 - Issue 92

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 signifies the UK’s latest step towards eliminating slavery in all its forms. The Act makes it a criminal offence for a person or organisation to engage in any form of “modern slavery” practices, including slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking.

There are estimated to be between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK. With the construction sector employing approximately 7% of the global workforce, it is one of the sectors identified as high risk for modern slavery practices. This has led to many UK construction companies reviewing their own businesses and supply chains in order to ensure that modern slavery, including human trafficking, is not taking place.

The high risk level in the construction sector is perhaps not surprising given that it requires a flexible and often temporary workforce in order to meet constantly fluctuating demands. While such a model creates greater cost certainty for construction businesses, it contributes to a lack of transparency in the labour supply chain. Additionally, it’s a sector heavily reliant on the procurement of materials sourced through multiple suppliers which exacerbates the lack of transparency. 

Tackling the risk of modern slavery in the construction sector is particularly challenging given the prevalence of outsourcing of workforces, meaning that main contractors have little direct control over or transparency concerning the identity of their workforce or their working conditions. Where the driver is cost, the risk of unethical recruitment practices may increase, even if contractors operate in accordance with legal requirements.

The Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement

Under the Act, larger organisations are required to publish an annual statement setting out the steps the organisation is taking to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place. Crucially, the SHT Statement must cover not only the organisation itself, but its entire supply chain. The SHT Statement should be approved by the organisation’s board of directors and published in a prominent place on the organisation’s website.

What organisations are covered?

The requirement to publish an SHT statement applies to any organisation which:

However, all organisations, regardless of whether or not they are required by statute to publish an SHT Statement, should be encouraged to continue to consider and address the issue of modern slavery within their supply chains if they wish to win new work and avoid potentially severe brand damage.

While there are no prescribed penalties for failing to publish an SHT Statement, the real risk with not taking positive steps to comply with the Act lies in the reputational damage that may be caused to an organisation’s brand if they are found to be non-compliant.

Anna Mulholland

Trainee Solicitor

e amulholland@prettys.co.uk

t 01473 298218

 

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