Kevin Hyland, UK anti-slavery commissioner, has laid down a challenge to businesses and the construction sector to change its day-to-day behaviour and perception when it comes to modern slavery.
This was the message at the official launch today in the House of Lords of a new best practice toolkit to help the construction industry tackle the issues of forced labour and modern slavery in its global supply chains.
The toolkit, which has been put together by the CIOB and industry alliance Stronger Together provides guidelines, training and best practice for the industry to address this growing issue and it is hoped a significant proportion of Tier 1 contractors will sign up and agree to adopt its policies.
Hyland said that businesses need to learn that the issue of labour exploitation is organised crime and as serious as other trafficking issues.
He said: “Just a decade ago, when people mentioned modern slavery it immediately made you think of sex trafficking. But forced labour is just as serious and needs to get the attention and be recognised.”
The new toolkit has been influenced by other sectors including retail, where companies such as Primark, Marks & Spencer and Next have banded together to address the issues of exploitation in the supply chain.
Since its introduction in March 2015, the Modern Slavery Act has galvanised the construction industry and made companies more aware of the need for better practice and monitoring of their supply chains.
Prime minister Theresa May has said it is “the great human rights issue of our time” and it is estimated that there are more than 45 million people subject to modern slavery in the world today.
The toolkit follows on from the publication of the CIOB report Building a Fairer System: Tackling Modern Slavery in Construction Supply Chains, which was published over the summer.
Chris Blythe, chief executive of the CIOB, said as the industry faces the pressures of calls for increased output amid labour shortages, it was vital that the topic of forced labour is addressed and dealt with.
He said: “I want to see these policies adopted from board level right down to on site, the support has to be there throughout companies and everyone informed to address the issues. I see the CIOB members as the forefront of this and as a first line of defence.”
Blythe said that in the past, when issues of modern slavery arose in the supply chain, it was often the policy to just fire the subcontractor but this tactic would no longer wash and the toolkit would help identify how to spot signs of slavery, no matter how subtle, on site.
He added that in the recent consultation on the CIOB code of conduct, members had asked that offences related to trafficking and slavery be added to conviction for violence, dishonesty and sexual offences that ensure exclusion from institute membership.
He also called on Hyland to specifically include construction in his reporting over the coming years to see how much progress the industry has made.
“The Modern Slavery Act affects all business sectors, it would say an awful lot about us if, in a couple of years’ time, Kevin could make some positive comments about the construction industry in his annual report.”
The toolkit can be downloaded free at www.stronger2gether.org