Modern slavery in the construction sector: an opportunity for engagement

25.07.19

The construction sector has been flagged as an area of high risk for human trafficking and modern slavery.

Organisations in the sector face specific issues that create risk. They include:

  1. Pressure on costs and project deadlines.
  2. Widespread use of agency and sub-contracted work.
  3. A high concentration of migrant workers, many of whom are not fluent in English.

Against that backdrop, it is important that responsible organisations take steps to demonstrate compliance, both within their organisations and supply chains. There is also growing political pressure on organisations across all sectors to ensure they have in place rigorous policies and processes to protect against the risk of human trafficking and modern slavery.

In May 2019, the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act published a report in which 80 recommendations were made with a view to further addressing the risk of modern slavery. One of the key recommendations is to remove the option for organisations to report in modern slavery statements that they have taken no steps to address the issue in their supply chains. This sends a clear message that there is an expectation that all organisations preparing statements will take appropriate action.

The UK government has recently issued a response to the report in which it is made clear that it expects organisations to increase the level of compliance and to integrate that compliance function within the “business culture”. Linked to its response, the UK government has, in the last few days, launched a consultation on strengthening the requirements to take action, to address the risk of modern slavery. Topics on which responses are invited include:

  • The content of modern slavery statements and making the issues to be covered in statements (such as training and due diligence) mandatory, rather than a choice.
  • Creating a centralised UK government registry of those organisations that have produced modern slavery statements.
  • The introduction of penalties for failing to produce statements on time and / or without appropriate detail.

This consultation ends on 17 September 2019 and views from the construction sector would most certainly be welcomed.

Our corporate crime and investigations team regularly advises organisations in the sector on steps to tackle modern slavery including preparing modern slavery statements, reviewing policies and procedures, providing training and providing guidance on contractual powers to audit those in the supply chain.

We would be happy to discuss proposed responses to the consultation, as well as queries around managing modern slavery risks. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Ramsay Hall and Paul Marshall for a discussion.