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Last edited 20 May 2019
Modern slavery in the construction sector
In 2018, just under 7,000 individuals were identified as potential victims of modern slavery and referred into the government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – a 300% rise since 2013. However, there is a consensus that these statistics do not reflect the true picture of modern slavery in the UK.
 Statistical discrepancies
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has previously suggested that this is the ‘tip of the iceberg’, and the 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates that 136,000 people are in situations of modern slavery in the UK at any one time. The discrepancy between the number of potential victims identified and the estimated number of victims is due to a number of contributing factors including the hidden nature of the crime, the lack of reporting and the low-level of awareness and understanding about modern slavery.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) asserted in its report ‘Ending Forced Labour by 2030’ that 84% of all modern slavery cases occur in the private economy and certain industries are more at risk. One of those high-risk industries is construction.
The construction industry has been consistently identified as an easily penetrable sector for criminals for several reasons: sub-contracting, temporary work, a complex supply chain and the employment of low-skilled, temporary, often foreign workers. All of which are common practices which may make workers vulnerable to exploitation and the detection of potential modern slavery more difficult.
Watch 'Concrete' - an awareness-raising video based on a real-life story of modern slavery in construction - to understand how these factors can create the conditions for exploitation to occur. Businesses may not realise that they are exposed to modern slavery, but as suggested in the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) report ‘Construction and the Modern Slavery Act’:
“Modern slavery should not be considered in isolation, but in the context of other exploitative practices such as health and safety breaches, banning of unions, blacklisting, illegal wage deductions, excessive working hours, withholding of passports, bullying, intimidation and squalid accommodation”.
Earlier this year, 11 individuals were identified as potential victims of modern slavery; this followed a joint operation launched into an organised crime group suspected of trafficking Romanian nationals to the UK, to be exploited in the construction industry.
So, how does the construction industry reduce these risk factors? It is clear, businesses need to be open to the possibility that modern slavery is occurring in their business; only then will they be able to facilitate honest dialogue and implement robust procedures to risk-proof their business.
Over the course of its forthcoming blogs, Stronger Together will share pragmatic information on how businesses can deter, detect and deal with modern slavery. In the meantime, more information is available at www.stronger2gether.org/construction.
 About this article
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- Time to face up: Modern slavery in the construction industry.
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