The UK construction industry is worth around £100 billion to the UK economy (6.7%) and employs nearly 3 million people. Very large numbers are foreign nationals.
In 2016 Chris Blythe the Chief executive of the CIOB stated (in his foreword of the CIOB’s report in to modern slavery) that the industry was “rife with human right abuses” and that “slavery is a problem on UK construction sites with people in positions of power turning a blind eye”. In fact, the slavery risk of course very much extends to the huge overseas work of the industry such as in the Middle East, where very high numbers of workers travel from other regions such as South Asia. Slavery is all forms of exploitation of vulnerable workers, and in this industry particularly bonded or forced labour.
Damning stuff, which raises the question what is the industry doing to clean up its act and how can you in the industry help help?
Right to work checks – A starting point would be to carry out right to work checks. In simple terms this entails a thorough examination of all necessary documentation, including visa and passport. It is your duty as the employer to ensure that your employee really is who he or she claims to be. It is worth noting that there are significant fines for employing illegal workers and you cannot rely on the excuse that you didn’t know.
Recruitment- How did this individual come to be working on your site? Did you recruit through an agency? Is that agency reputable? Don’t simply tick the box. More and more we are hearing stories of individuals being trafficked to the UK. They come here under the illusion that they will have the opportunity to earn a good living and have money to spare to send to their families back at home. Once here their traffickers steal their passports and wages, forcing them to live in squalid conditions. Effectively these people are enslaved and you may be held responsible.
Engagement – Speak to your workforce, especially those from the EU and beyond as these are the ones most likely to be victims of traffickers.
Investment and actions – Implementing these measures requires you to invest time and money into better processes and procedures. Failure to ensure that your workforce has the right to be here, are not the victims of traffickers, and that their wages and passports have not been stolen can have devastating consequences. As already mentioned there are punitive fines for employers employing illegal workers but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The damage to business reputation, investor reputation and future contracts if your company is exposed for slavery on sites or in the supply chain will also have grave consequences. Think widely about your stakeholders, including your commercial relationships and employees, and how they might react. Many companies of all sizes are required by law or possibly by responsible corporate customers to state their policies ands actions to prevent slavery in their own enterprise and their supply chain, driven now particularly by the Modern Slavery Act and our stringent anti-bribery laws. Larger enterprises have to publish an annual statement about their actions to prevent slavery and this will increasingly be passed down to smaller suppliers by contracts. These statements are contrasted and compared, and also represent a permanent audit trail of the company’s stated actions for possible future investigation or even legal claims.
How we help – At Clarkslegal we have a team of lawyers and consultants who specialise in advising on supply chain concerns including procurement, international standards such as the ILO, UN and OECD, Modern Slavery compliance, bribery risk, and sustainability issues. Our immigration team will assist you in right to work checks. Our employment team can help with your recruitment policy and international labour relations management, and our Human Resources consultancy Forbury People Ltd can also help with management training and briefings on risks and solutions.
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