The construction industry, like other industries with complex and international supply chains, is vulnerable to the risks of modern slavery. Around the world, millions of people are affected by modern slavery, with victims subjected to forced labour, human trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.
In recent years, the UK has put forward measures to address this issue, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015. However, findings show that efforts to combat modern slavery in the country are waning. Those of us with ties to the construction industry are clear on the urgent need for renewed focus and commitment to this critical issue.
An analysis by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) reveals that only 29% of organisations required to produce a modern slavery statement submitted it to the UK government registry in 2022. This is a 46% drop in submitted statements compared to the previous year. Despite the risks of modern slavery abuses in the UK, not enough companies are adequately disclosing anti-slavery measures within their supply chains.
David Taylor, chief operating officer at CIPS, says that organisations are being tempted to “turn a blind eye to modern slavery”. There’s an element of truth to this in some cases, but the story is more complicated than that. There are several key reasons why modern slavery disclosures are on the decline. This includes the following:
- Limited enforcement — companies are not feeling pressure to comply with the Modern Slavery Act’s reporting requirements due to a lack of enforcement and penalties for non-compliance.
- Economic challenges — companies facing financial pressures are prioritising other aspects of their operations over addressing modern slavery and producing the required statements.
- Insufficient awareness — some organisations are not fully aware of their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act or may underestimate the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains.
- Overburdened compliance teams — limited resources and growing regulatory requirements have led to overburdened compliance teams that struggle to produce timely and comprehensive modern slavery statements.
The government is not helping matters by sending mixed signals on the importance of this issue. On the one hand, the government is widely expected to introduce a new modern slavery bill this year that would make submissions mandatory for qualifying businesses. At the same time, the government still has not appointed someone to fill the post of independent anti-slavery commissioner, which has been vacant since April 2022.
Businesses in the UK construction industry and elsewhere should be proactive and do more than simply wait on the advice of the government. Modern slavery is more than just a regulatory issue — for millions of people in our supply chains, it is a lived reality. Here are four areas that all UK construction companies should review:
1. Transparency and compliance
Construction companies must prioritise transparency and compliance with the Modern Slavery Act by disclosing their anti-slavery measures within their supply chains. This includes publishing annual statements outlining the steps taken to address slavery and submitting these statements to the government registry.
2. Due diligence and risk assessments
Companies should enact robust risk assessment processes to identify and address potential instances of modern slavery in their supply chains. This includes working closely with suppliers and subcontractors to ensure they adhere to ethical labour practices.
3. Training and awareness
Construction firms should invest in training and awareness programmes to ensure that employees and stakeholders understand the risks of modern slavery and are equipped to identify and report potential cases.
4. Collaboration and advocacy
The construction industry should engage in collaborative efforts with governments, NGOs, and other organisations to address the issue of modern slavery. This includes advocating for stronger legislation and enforcement measures, as well as sharing best practices and resources.
Member schemes like CHAS Elite play a significant role in the fight against modern slavery by promoting ethical business practices, encouraging transparency, and providing support for companies in the construction industry.
By ensuring compliance with the Common Assessment Standard, which assesses various risk management areas, including modern slavery, CHAS Elite and similar schemes help companies demonstrate their commitment to ethical labour practices and maintain a responsible supply chain.
In addition, these member schemes can offer training and awareness programmes for companies to educate their employees and stakeholders on the risks of modern slavery and how to identify and report potential cases. This increased awareness can contribute to the prevention and detection of modern slavery in the construction industry and beyond.
In summary, the construction industry has a crucial role to play in the global fight against modern slavery. By prioritising transparency, compliance and collaboration and leveraging the support of member schemes like CHAS Elite, the sector can help drive meaningful change and contribute to the eradication of this pervasive issue.
It is time for construction companies to take decisive action and demonstrate their commitment to protecting human rights and promoting ethical labour practices within their operations and supply chains.
Alex Minett is the Head of Product & Markets at CHAS, the UK’s leading health and safety assessment scheme and provider of risk mitigation, compliance, and supply chain management services. With a working history in the audit and management consulting industry, Alex is experienced in implementing visions and strategies. Skilled in negotiation, management and business development, he is passionate about driving CHAS in its mission to safeguard organisations from risk in the UK.