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Modern slavery in the UK


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Due to the complex and hidden nature of modern slavery, it is a much larger problem than official figures recognise in the UK. It still happens here, even though it shouldn’t.

So how can we support our construction industry supply chain to mitigate it?

In 2020, multiple national lockdowns meant that victims of modern slavery were even more hidden and isolated than usual, drastically reducing any chance of rescue.

Victim identification and support, criminal justice proceedings and active investigations were all disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The charity, Unseen, who run a 24-hour modern slavery helpline, explained the shutdown of other industries put the spotlight on construction work that was potentially exploitative during the pandemic.

Reports of suspected modern slavery cases in construction were higher than in any other industry during the lockdown period. A total of 57 cases with 209 potential victims were recorded between 23 March and 23 September 2020 (Courtenay Forbes, Unseen).

Modern Slavery Act

In March 2015, the Modern Slavery Act was introduced in England and Wales as a landmark piece of legislation that provided law enforcement agencies with the tools to fight modern slavery.

It provided enhanced protection for victims. Section 54 of this Act, Transparency in Supply Chains, established the requirement for all businesses that earn more than £36 million in annual revenue to produce a modern slavery statement that outlines the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery.

In September 2020, the Government announced its intention to extend the requirement to publish a modern slavery statement to large public bodies not captured by the current legislation.

The Act targets large companies, with a view to them cascading their awareness and mitigating efforts down through their supply chain.

Construction Protocol

At SCAPE, we have committed to raise awareness within supply chains to help prevent and protect workers from exploitation or abuse and take the necessary steps to ensure that exploitation and abuse of workers is recognised and addressed, with appropriate safeguards put in place to ensure that exploitative practice is not repeated.

Alison Ramsey

Performance and support manager, SCAPE

As a signatory to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority’s Construction Protocol, we work in partnership with our construction industry colleagues to protect vulnerable workers.

Indications of modern slavery can be difficult to spot, so we support staff to recognise the warning signs and provide a clear route for them to raise their concerns. While it may be unlikely that large companies are directly employing trafficked people, sub-contractors (or the agencies supplying labour) could find themselves targeted by unscrupulous gangmasters supplying labour at low rates.

Supporting SMEs

With Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) employing over 60% of those working in the private sector, they are crucial to preventing modern slavery. To do this, SMEs need the right tools to support them in assessing and managing their own risks, recognising the warning signs and knowing how to deal with concerns if modern slavery is suspected.

A practical guide for SMEs on how to mitigate the risk of modern slavery in their operations has been jointly developed by STOP THE TRAFFIK and Shiva Foundation and is free to download.

The toolkit includes case studies, risk assessments and information, and has been developed by these two exploitation-fighting charities specifically for SMEs. Download it here, or via the link below.

Modern slavery is unacceptable in any form, in any industry. Increasing everyone’s awareness and raising the profile of the routes for reporting suspicions is a shared responsibility – and one that we take extremely seriously at SCAPE.