Freeing the construction industry of modern slavery

s216_karen_bradley2According to the latest figures from The Salvation Army, the number of modern slavery victims they help in the UK has risen by 62 per cent. Shockingly, there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history.

That’s why we launched our Modern Slavery Campaign this summer, helping give people the confidence to report suspected slavery. We set up a dedicated helpline (0800 0121 700) for people to talk through any concerns and a website packed full of advice.

However, recent statistics from the National Crime Agency show that in the UK 27 per cent of potential victims are trafficked into labour exploitation. We cannot beat slavery without the help of UK businesses and we need the construction sector to join our fight.

Modern slavery can affect businesses across the UK, whether large or small. Traffickers, slave masters and illegal gangmasters target a range of industries, including construction. The construction sector contributes £83 billion to the UK economy and employs 2.15 million people. Organised criminals are looking for opportunities to exploit this lucrative industry.

“Organised criminals are looking for opportunities to exploit this lucrative industry”

We know that 53 potential victims were referred to UK authorities from the construction sector in 2013. This number might seem small, but these are only the victims who have been referred. Slavery’s hidden nature means the actual figures are likely to be much higher.

There are things we can all look out for, so that people who abuse others do not get away with it.

Some warning signs may be apparent from the first time you meet a potential employee. Perhaps they seem malnourished, unkempt, or injured. They might often wear the same clothes, or clothes unsuitable for work. You may notice they seem withdrawn or frightened and unable to interact easily with colleagues.

Other signals take longer to emerge, such as noticing that someone you employ does not have their own legal documents, or their wages are paid into a bank account in someone else’s name. The person could perceive themselves as indebted to someone, or seem afraid of the authorities.

“Some warning signs may be apparent from the first time you meet a potential employee”

It is the responsibility of businesses to undertake due diligence and work closely with suppliers to check supply chains are slavery free. The Modern Slavery Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will include a measure which will require big businesses to publicly state each year what action they have taken to protect against slavery.

However, there is also an onus on each of us as individuals. If you are offered a ready supply of labour at cheap rates, or if you become suspicious about the circumstances of an employee, it might seem easier to turn a blind eye.

My message to you is this: please do not ignore your suspicions.

We all have a responsibility to stamp out this evil trade and together we can work to free the construction industry of modern slavery.

Karen Bradley is minister for modern slavery and organised crime

First Published in Construction News

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