No room for complacency on modern slavery

A new report on the drivers of modern slavery in construction has shown how construction firms can unwittingly end up using unethical sources of labour. It’s essential to remain vigilant, says Caroline Gumble.

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s report on the drivers of labour exploitation in construction makes for eye-opening reading. Part of the report is an analysis of Operation Cardinas, a police investigation into an organised crime group which infiltrated the supply chains of major construction projects across London and the south east for nearly a decade.

One of the things that struck me is that it is possible for businesses to unknowingly get caught up in labour exploitation, or even modern slavery, through links in the supply chain. Hundreds of victims of forced labour, as a result of the criminal gang’s activities, were working on construction sites in the period covered by the investigation. There’s an interview with the director of a subcontractor that got unwittingly caught up in employing victims of modern slavery here, which is well worth a read.

“I strongly urge everyone in the built environment sector to read this report and understand the lessons there are to be learned in the ‘Evolving Best Practice’ section.”

Caroline Gumble, CIOB

But it is absolutely essential to recognise there is just no room for complacency when it comes to measures to avoid modern slavery. Labour exploitation – with modern slavery being at the extreme end of the spectrum – has been an issue in our industry for far too long now and, while our comprehensive report on modern slavery in 2018 helped raise awareness and outline a route map to better business practices, criminal gangs are continuing to evolve how they operate.

I want to echo Dame Sara Thornton’s comment in the report that collaborative working is so important in combating labour exploitation – and that clients can provide support to their supply chain and be hugely influential as a key part of the construction process.

I strongly urge everyone in the built environment sector to read this report and understand the lessons there are to be learned in the ‘Evolving Best Practice’ section. Given the skills shortage and the current demand and pressures on the construction industry, it is right that eradicating modern slavery remains a priority, throughout the sector.

The CIOB’s Policy and Public Affairs team is analysing the report, with a focus on what progress might have been made since our report into modern slavery published in 2018. CIOB’s full response to the new report from the commissioner will be published shortly.

Operation Cardinas and Beyond: Addressing exploitation risk in the construction sector can be found on the website of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner https://www.antislaverycommissioner.co.uk.

Caroline Gumble is CEO of CIOB

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