At a well-attended event held in Central London on 5 July, the BRE officially launched the “beta” version of a new standard covering ethical sourcing of labour. The new standard represents the logical next step following the introduction of BES 6001, the BRE standard relating to the responsible sourcing of construction products. BES 6001 enables product manufacturers to ensure – and prove – that their products have been made with constituent materials that have been responsibly sourced. Through BES 6001, product manufacturers can demonstrate compliance with the requirements for organisational governance, supply chain management and environmental and social responsibility that must be addressed to ensure the responsible sourcing of construction products.
Independent third party assessment and certification against the requirements of BES 6001 give companies the ability to prove the standards they maintain. The new ethical labour standard (“ELS”) will allow companies to prove that they maintain the same standards when it comes to sourcing labour. The ELS criteria require companies to show well developed procedures and behaviours across a range of issues including management systems and policies, human resources, procurement, anti bribery & corruption, supply chain, learning and development and reporting.
These developments should be seen in the context of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which sets a basic benchmark for ethical business practice in the sourcing of labour and contains significant measures aimed at preventing forced labour and human trafficking. In particular the Act:
This Act is made necessary by the shocking facts of modern slavery. An estimated 35.8 million people currently live their lives as slaves . Your clothing, household goods and technology may all have been partly made by slaves – from t-shirts to granite worktops, to tantalum and other conflict minerals in your mobile phone.
There is a clear moral case for eliminating modern slavery, one that the Act and the ELS seek to address . But there is business logic too. When it comes to recruitment, seeking third party investment in your business, building long term business relationships, or access to trading opportunities, ethical sourcing of materials and labour is becoming increasingly important. It is arguably no longer possible for a business to sustain itself long term without addressing these issues in a meaningful and transparent way.
In the face of such a hugely difficult and ongoing problem as modern slavery, the issue for some construction companies has been – where to start? What is the best “way in” to confronting the issues in a way that may ultimately lead to the elimination of slavery in construction supply chains? The BRE has now provided a point of focus with the introduction of the ELS, and it is to be hoped that compliance with the ELS requirements will quickly come to be seen as a given, a necessity in order to maintain a sustainable and profitable business.