UK: A Wholehearted Approach Is Needed To Eliminate Modern Slavery: Time To Fully Engage

Last Updated: 11 December 2018
Article by Kirsti Olson and Tracey Summerell

Modern slavery is an issue no one in the UK construction industry can afford to ignore. The industry's complex and wide-ranging supply chains and high labour demand unfortunately create conditions in which criminals in the "slave trade" can operate.

Since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the Act), construction companies have started to address the issues and eliminate slavery but there is still much to be done.

This article rounds up some essential reading for those who source labour and manage supply chains in both the domestic and international construction industry.

The requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

The Act introduced a requirement for UK businesses with a turnover of more than £36 million to report annually on what they are doing to tackle slavery in their supply chains. For a review of the corporate obligations imposed by the Act, read: our 2015 article: Modern slavery and supply chain transparency: new statutory obligations to combat slavery and human trafficking; and/or Modern Slavery Act 2015, Supply Chain Transparency – new legal duties now in force.

Review of the Act

The government announced plans to launch an independent review of the Act in July 2018 to ensure UK law remains ahead globally in tackling this crime.

"The exploitation and enslaving of men, women and children across the world and within the UK is one of the most shocking crimes and one of the most profitable. The Modern Slavery Act is a splendid piece of legislation but it is very important to review how well it is being implemented and how it could be improved. I am delighted and proud to be asked to be part of a team to hold an independent review into the working of the act." (Baroness Butler-Sloss)

Led by Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Rt Hon Maria Miller MP and Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss, the terms of reference of the review are set out here: "the review's purpose is to report on the operation and effectiveness of the Act, which provides the legal framework for tackling modern slavery in the UK. It will also consider potential improvements to the Act in order to ensure that it is fit for purpose now and in the future".

The reviewers will make their recommendations to the Home Secretary in March 2019.

Also in July 2018, the Home Office published a report on the Economic and social costs of modern slavery which estimated the total cost of modern slavery in the UK in the year ending March 2017 to be between £3.3 billion and £4.3 billion. However, the report makes clear that the physical and emotional harms to victims represent by far the biggest component of the cost.

The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill

The second reading in Parliament of The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill is currently scheduled for 25 January 2019. The bill:

  • aims to create a legal basis for the assistance and support of victims of modern slavery;
  • recognises that those who have endured slavery need support – both financial and emotional – to avoid falling back into slavery in future;
  • gives victims of slavery a right to a reflection and recovery period of 45 days from a determination by a competent authority that they have been so victimised.

The construction industry's lukewarm response

In October 2018, the Home Office called on businesses to do more to tackle slavery in their supply chains or face further action (see the Home Office press release) and issued its 2018 UK annual report into modern slavery. The report provides an overview of modern slavery in the UK and explains how the UK has responded to this threat over the last 12 months. In the foreword, the Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, summarises action taken by the government including the launch of the four principles (referred to below) to eliminate slavery from global supply chains. (More materials related to the government's work to end modern slavery can be found here).

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has issued a number of reports including "The Dark Side of Construction" and "Building a Fairer System: tackling modern slavery in construction supply chains" (links to which can be found here (scroll down to find them)). Highlighting that slavery is found not only in developing countries, but right here on sites across the UK, the CIOB have called on clients and tier one organisations to: take greater responsibility for their supply chains; create a fair business; develop clear business processes; carry out due diligence; and train staff on the risks of slavery and how to prevent it.

In the CIOB's latest report, Construction and the Modern Slavery Act, Tackling Exploitation in the UK, Chris Blythe OBE, chief executive of the CIOB, highlights the key issues: a high risk industry reliant on migrant labour; an environment in which exploitation and criminality can thrive undetected; pricing pressures that force out ethical players; a lukewarm industry response to the Act with watered down supply chain statements, [too many] aiming for compliance with the legal minimum requirements which shows a lack of humanity and "chronic corporate short-sightedness" (and potential unprofessionalism); and, despite pockets of excellence, the need for a new industry approach to tackling modern slavery.

The report's explanations, research, analyses, case studies and proposals are essential reading for boards and managers alike.

New principles to tackle modern slavery

The UK, working with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, has developed new principles for nations to adopt in tackling modern slavery in global supply chains. The four principles, which can be found in more detail here, provide that governments should:

  • take steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices;
  • encourage the private sector to prevent and address human trafficking in its supply chains;
  • advance responsible recruitment policies and practices; and
  • strive for harmonisation.

Underpinning the four principles is the belief that the UK and its partners can "use their US$600 billion of purchasing power as a lever to prevent forced labour in both the public and private sector".

Further reading

You can read Dentons UK and Middle East's own modern slavery and human trafficking statement here.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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