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46. Rooting Out Modern Slavery in the Construction Industry

46. Rooting Out Modern Slavery in the Construction Industry

Modern Slavery Seminar

Modern slavery continues to be a significant concern around the world, and it’s not something that’s limited to the seedy underbelly of society. According to the International Labour Organization, more than 16 million people globally are trapped in forced labor in the private sector. This includes common industries such as domestic work, construction and agriculture, which all rely heavily on the contributions of temporary employees. For a leading international construction company in the UK (“the client”) , spotting and combatting modern slavery in its workforce and supply chain is critical for upholding its values, protecting its reputation and complying with the law.

During a quarterly review with Advantage Group UK, the client raised the issue of modern slavery and asked what steps Advantage, as the company’s staffing consultant, was taking to fight it. While the client already had strong, comprehensive policies in place for its permanent workforce, the company felt more could be done to root out modern slavery within its short-term ranks. Coming out of that meeting, Advantage agreed to develop a session to explore the issue and ensure the client had the proper policies and protections in place for the thousands of temporary employees who work on behalf of the company. 

“Construction is ranked as the highest-risk sector when it comes to labor exploitation in nine out of 21 European countries,” said Charlotte Fisher, Managing Director of Advantage Group UK. “It’s a significant and serious problem that’s largely due to the nature of the work and how the supply chain is managed.”

To attack the problem head on, Advantage brought in experts on the modern slavery issue. Together with the client, Advantage and the expert consultants reviewed the company’s policies regarding temporary workers and put together a game plan to address the issue throughout the supply chain.

“Coming out of that meeting,” Charlotte said, “the client developed a supplier version of its policies and we introduced a supply-chain checklist and monitoring process that Advantage would manage on behalf of the client, as well as an audit mechanism and awareness training.”

The client’s policies require suppliers to provide a “modern slavery statement,” detailing the steps they take to ensure labor exploitation and human trafficking are not taking place in their business or supply chain. Suppliers must also provide evidence that employees are being paid fairly and properly, which includes earning at least the legal minimum wage and not having pay deducted for things like food, accommodations and debt. 

The policies also offer signs for spotting potential victims, which include:

  • Not having possession of their own legal documents.
  • Directing their pay to the same bank account as other workers.
  • Being dropped off and picked up with a group of other workers at the same times each day.
  • Appearing malnourished, unkempt or withdrawn.
  • Not speaking for themselves and appearing frightened. 
  • Not seeking medical care for injuries.
  • Being fearful of authorities, such as police and immigration officials.

 

The checklist managed by Advantage asks suppliers to provide data like bank accounts and addresses for every worker they engage. Using that information, Advantage is able to conduct supplier audits that can identify duplicate details and flag other items that raise modern slavery suspicions. Additionally, the client provides an internal whistleblowing line that employees can use to report any slavery concerns.

Working with the Sustainability Supply Chain School, Advantage developed a supplier seminar in 2019 and invited recruitment agencies, hiring managers and other stakeholders who work with the client. Nearly every attendee said the seminar increased their awareness and knowledge of the modern slavery issue. It was so successful that further seminars are planned. Additionally, outside audiences have noticed the progress Advantage and the client is making with their combined efforts.

“As a result of the work we’ve done on this issue in partnership with the client,” Charlotte said, “a group of construction recruitment agencies have identified our efforts as an examples of best practices in combatting modern slavery. We met with the group in January and look forward to continue working with them to raise awareness of modern slavery and help eliminate it from our workforce.”

For more information about spotting the signs of modern slavery and reporting it to the proper authorities, visit the Anti-Slavery International website here.

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