How can we eradicate modern slavery from supply chains?
On 12 June the Home Office brought together representatives from across the construction sector to have a frank and open conversation on how we can eradicate modern slavery from supply chains.
Construction plays a huge role in our economy, contributing £113bn and, in 2017, provided approximately 2.4 million jobs. It is a crucial sector and it’s impossible to overstate its importance to the future of the British economy.
But with this success comes a more disturbing trend. The prevalence of modern slavery in construction is worryingly high. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates nearly one fifth of modern slavery victims in the private sector globally are being exploited in construction. The ILO estimate there are 40 million victims of modern slavery in the world.
Every case of modern slavery is a tragedy. Last year, nearly 7,000 potential victims of 130 different nationalities were referred to the National Referral Mechanism – the UK’s system by which victims are identified and provided with support.
We have seen examples of men from Romania, trafficked to the UK with the promise of earning £50 per day. These men had their documents taken by their abusers and were forced to live in poor cramped accommodation. They were subcontracted to work on a large construction site and received as little as £10 a day. They were beaten, treated aggressively and thrown out onto the street if they dared question their arrangement.
Thanks to the hard work of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), and other enforcement agencies, we are bringing perpetrators of modern slavery to justice and safeguarding those who have been abused.
The government is absolutely committed to tackling this abhorrent crime, and consigning modern slavery to the history books, and to do that, it’s vital for business and government to collaborate.
The meeting hosted by the Home Office with the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), the GLAA and Crown Commercial Services brought together business leaders and key partners in government. It was a very constructive discussion on steps we need to take to accelerate progress in eliminating modern slavery from our economy.
Attendees discussed how industry can work together to mitigate against the risk of modern slavery at every stage of complex supply chains. They also considered how to embed responsible recruitment practices to prevent workers being charged exploitative fees, how to implement responsible purchasing practices, and importantly how government can support these efforts.
I am pleased to say that more than a hundred construction firms have already signed up to the GLAA's Construction Protocol, and attendees at the meeting indicated that they would looking to signing up as a matter of priority. This is a collaboration between contractors and law enforcement for exchanging information on suspected criminal activity and help share best practice. The Protocol is free to join and is open to suppliers, subcontractors, labour agencies, SMEs and clients. Organisations from diverse sectors are represented, from civil engineering to facilities management and labour supply. Attendees also agreed to request that their direct suppliers also sign up to the protocol.
Businesses highlighted the important work they were doing and demonstrated personal commitment to going further. It’s crucial we have this commitment from businesses to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Together we can step important steps to stamp out this horrific crime.
Victoria Atkins is parliamentary under secretary of state at the Home Office and Conservative MP for Louth & Horncastle.