Construction firms face tougher sanctions on modern slavery

23 May 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

Construction businesses should be placed under more pressure to show what action they are taking to stamp out modern slavery and exploitation in their supply chains or face enforcement action.

Those are some of the conclusions of an independent review by MPs into the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which warned that too few firms are being prosecuted four years on from the Act’s introduction.

The Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act, conducted by baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, and MPs Frank Field and Maria Miller, was established to look into the operations and effectiveness of the Act and to suggest potential improvements.

Publishing their report today, they warned that there was still a lack of transparency in supply chains when it came to modern slavery.

The Act introduced a requirement on commercial organisations with an annual turnover of more than £36m to report annually on the steps, if any, they have taken to ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their organisation and supply chains. But the report warned the legislation is “light on detail” and does not mandate what should be reported in the statement, despite suggestions on six areas that businesses are expected to report on.

The report called for more clarity, guidance, monitoring and enforcement in modern slavery statements to increase compliance and quality. It argued that companies should not be able to state they have taken no steps to address modern slavery in their supply chains, as the legislation currently permits, and that the six areas of reporting currently recommended in guidance should be made mandatory.

Sanctions for non-compliance

“We also recommend that government should set up a central repository for statements; that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner should monitor transparency; sanctions for non-compliance should be strengthened; and that government should bring forward proposals for an enforcement body to enforce sanctions against non-compliant companies,” it added.

Meanwhile, the report urged the government to lead by example and strengthen its procurement process, calling for the Companies Act 2006 to be amended to include a requirement for companies to refer to their modern slavery statement in their annual reports.

In his introduction to the report, Field said: “The Modern Slavery Act was merely the beginning of a fightback, and implementation is as important as legislation. We have identified, for example, severe deficiencies in how data is collected in this area. Similarly, there needs to be greater awareness of modern slavery and consistent, high quality training among those most likely to encounter its victims. Without these changes, the impact of the Act will be limited.”

The Charted Institute of Building, which has published three reports focusing on the issue of modern slavery, including the 2018 report “Construction and the Modern Slavery Act, tackling exploitation in the UK”, welcomed the news.

The CIOB’s main calls have focused on reducing incidences of modern slavery across the supply chain, including construction firms increasing engagement with suppliers, the need to provide guidance to firms who uncover slavery practices, and the requirement for greater transparency and sharing of information around slavery practices across the supply chain.

Eddie Tuttle, the CIOB’s director of policy, research and public affairs said: “While we have in the past criticised slow responses to the Modern Slavery Act, this new report actually addresses the biggest areas of concern. In particular, it is right that they have been explicit about all businesses taking seriously their responsibilities to check their supply chains. However, it is our belief that there is room for more specific recommendations around support for reporting incidences of suspected slavery and more transparency and data sharing in connection with confirmed occurrences.

"As Frank Field has stated, there are 'ever-evolving threats' presented by modern slavery and we shall continue to work with government and industry to tackle these challenges. We will play our part to empower everyone working in the construction sector to act and help create an environment in which exploitation and slavery cannot thrive.”

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