Tackling modern slavery in the construction industry

Vania Goncalves 5 May 2017 EUROPE

Slavery is not a practice from the past. On the contrary, it is alive and well today.

Modern slavery, as it is now referred to, includes any kind of forced or bonded labour, labour trafficking, or any other third party exploitation of workers.

The Global Slavery Index 2016 states that modern slavery refers to “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception”.

According to the Index, an estimated 45.8M people live in modern slavery around the world. In the UK, the Home Office concluded that there were 10,000 to 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in 2013.

Many sectors and industries are affected by the issue of modern slavery, and according to Jantine Werdmuller von Elgg, Stronger Together construction programme lead, the construction industry is one of the sectors at higher risk.

“The industry is at higher risk of modern slavery because of the complexities of its supply chain,” said Werdmuller von Elgg.

The industry’s fragmented supply chain, opaque procurement processes and high demand for migrant labour are some of the reasons for its vulnerability to modern slavery.

Tackling the issue has, therefore, become crucial and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and industry alliance Stronger Together have recently launched a best practice toolkit with this intent.

The toolkit, which can be downloaded for free at www.stronger2gether.org/construction, provides guidance on what companies can do to prevent modern slavery from happening in the UK operations and supply chains, as well as what they should do when they spot it.

Chris Blythe OBE, CIOB chief executive, said: “Firms that take up and implement this toolkit demonstrate their commitment to ending modern slavery, wherever it may occur. The toolkit and wider programme are there to help raise awareness of modern slavery, identify exploitation and then provide the support for businesses to deal with it responsibly through guidance and good practice.”

He added: “Dealing with slavery in our supply chains has two virtues. Firstly, it helps the victims and reduces the scope for there to be further victims in the industry. It stops the industry being exploited by criminals using slavery as their means of making money.

“Secondly, if we can demonstrate that our supply chain is slavery free, we go a long way to improving the image of the industry. Being seen to be taking action and positively helping the victims of modern slavery is the best way to show that construction is a modern people-centred industry that values all who work in it.”

The toolkit is part of a wider industry programme providing a free range of resources, which companies can use to implement good practice and address the problem.

Werdmuller von Elgg said: “Another key resource is a film we have launched. Concrete is a short film, which can be used by companies in their induction programmes, and for training purposes.

“It shows what modern slavery is, how can they spot it, what to look out for and what they should do once they spot it.”

Other resources include questionnaires, check lists, and leaflets in different languages, as well as the provision of interactive workshops.

“We will start providing workshops in the second half of this year. We [will] bring representatives from construction companies together to raise awareness and talk them through the guidance that is in the toolkit, amongst other things. They [will] learn about the issue and what they can do to deal with it,” she said.

Even though the programme is being brought forward in the UK, it can be used anywhere and everywhere.

“The toolkit is not written specifically for the UK, it can be taken out by a company in any country. We are very open to having conversations with companies in other countries, and if they say well we think that this is useful, but we would need it to be adjusted and make it bespoke to the country, we are very happy for them to do that or to work with them to do that.”

Both organisations are now inviting construction companies and clients to become Stronger Together construction sector project sponsors to pioneer the programme into the industry.

“We are currently in the process of getting the confirmation of leading companies that want to become part of this programme for the long term. We have had two confirmations, but only when we do have the full set of confirmations we want to tell [all about it],” said Werdmuller von Elgg.

The steering group will be confirmed in June.

* Launched in October 2013, Stronger Together is a business led, multi-stakeholder collaborative initiative whose purpose is to support organisations to tackle modern slavery within their businesses and supply chains.

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