The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has long campaigned for contractors to be aware of the existence of modern slavery within construction and face up to the human rights risks in supply chains. Their 2018 report “Construction and the Modern Slavery Act, tackling exploitation in the UK”, their third focussing on the issue, highlighted the aggressive business models and unethical procurement and recruitment practices present in construction which have, in part, led to the National Crime Agency (NCA) identifying construction as one of the most common sectors for labour exploitation in the UK.
The Home Office has now published an “Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015: Final Report” following an assessment of the operation and effectiveness of the Act, which provides the legal framework for tackling modern slavery offences. The government commissioned Frank Field MP, Maria Miller MP and Baroness Butler-Sloss to conduct the review, focussing on strengthening and enhancing the current legislation.
The main calls from the CIOB have focussed on reducing incidences of modern slavery across the supply chain:
The importance of construction firms increasing engagement with their respective supply chains. Specifically, the 2018 CIOB report called for “an atmosphere of openness in which systemic weaknesses … can be discussed without fear of reprisals.” Their view is that this should mean that discovery of modern slavery practices in a firm’s supply chain should be dealt with not by penalising the firm for supposedly allowing it to happen, but to welcome the fact that checks and reviews have worked in bringing such incidences to light.
The necessity of providing guidance to firms who uncover examples of slavery practices within their supply chain so that there can be appropriate action to ensure against such incidences in the future. This should be by establishing clear incident protocols to both protect victims and to safeguard evidence for prosecutions.
The requirement for greater transparency and sharing of information around slavery practices across the supply chain. A commitment to agreeing a consistent way to audit supply chains and share findings, as well as supporting the development of digital tools to aid this work, should be sought from businesses working with supply chains. The CIOB also wants to see firms commit to being early adopters of voluntary standards as established in the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) construction protocol.
The CIOB has welcomed much of the Independent Review’s final report, which does include many recommendations echoing the CIOB’s calls. The prioritisation of work around supply chains is particularly encouraging: the new report states that “companies should not be able to state they have taken no steps to address modern slavery in their supply chains, as the legislation currently permits, and that the six areas of reporting currently recommended in guidance should be made mandatory.”
In addition, extending Modern Slavery Act legislation across public procurement could act as a major catalyst for improved supply chain reporting and reform. The legislation would incentivise tier one contractors to access the hardest to reach parts of their supply chains. Major construction companies could also play an important role in supporting public sector bodies as they review their procurement processes. As suggested in the new report, the “Government should extend section 54 requirements to the public sector and strengthen its public procurement processes”. It is conceivable that those companies not delivering on these requirements might not be eligible for public contracts.
Eddie Tuttle, the CIOB’s Director of Policy, Research & Public Affairs said: “While we have in the past criticised slow responses to the Modern Slavery Act, this new report actually addresses the biggest areas of concern. In particular, it is right that they have been explicit about all businesses taking seriously their responsibilities to check their supply chains. However, it is our belief that there is room for more specific recommendations around support for reporting incidences of suspected slavery and more transparency and data sharing in connection with confirmed occurrences. As Frank Field has stated, there are “ever-evolving threats” presented by modern slavery and we shall continue to work with government and industry to tackle these challenges. We will play our part to empower everyone working in the construction sector to act and help create an environment in which exploitation and slavery cannot thrive.”
The Independent Review can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-the-modern-slavery-act-final-report
The CIOB’s reports on tackling Modern Slavery in construction can be found here: www.ciob.org/campaigns/tackling-modern-slavery-construction