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Addressing Modern Slavery in Construction Supply Chains

09 April 2021 | Updated 11 April 2021

CHAS, the supply chain risk management expert, has partnered with the University of Nottingham Rights Lab to undertake a research project around the risk of modern slavery within construction supply chains, with a focus on small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

The project, which will begin in April 2021, will assess the risk of modern slavery in construction supply chains and seek to establish how construction businesses can effectively tackle the issue.

Modern slavery is a complex crime that covers all forms of slavery, trafficking and exploitation. From a national statistics perspective, assessment of modern slavery is difficult to achieve comprehensively, due to its deliberately hidden nature. For this reason, it is an increased awareness and reporting at ground level that helps to report and address these offences. The construction industry is one of the largest sectors for exploitation, because of its global necessity and physical labour focus – a 2018 report from CIOB stated that in the EU, construction ranks second only to the sex industry as the industry most prone to exploitation.


"Together we hope to progress understanding of SME engagement with the anti-slavery agenda, including opportunities and challenges to engage smaller businesses, and develop tailored guidance to support their members in tackling modern slavery.”


– Dr Akilah Jardine
Research Fellow, the Rights Lab


Is the Reporting Threshold Too High?


Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, there is no legal requirement for businesses with a turnover of less than £36m to publish a statement regarding how they are addressing the risk of modern slavery. However, many construction SMEs are asked by their supply chains to provide evidence that they are tackling the issue.

Through their collaboration with the Rights Lab, CHAS will establish a range of tools and resources to help construction SMEs take positive action to manage, mitigate and eliminate the risk of modern slavery and labour exploitation in the construction supply chain. 

At every step of the supply chain there is a responsibility to accept that it could be happening in sight of your business links, and consequently look out for the signs. Individuals that appear to be working excessive hours, behaving withdrawn and with distrust, or seem abused and lacking in personal belongings, could possibly be at risk. Encouraging increasing visibility of employee data in your supply chain can help to highlight whether these indications are of any further concern.


Supporting Small Business’ for Collective Results


With 99 per cent of private businesses in the UK made up of SMEs, nearly a fifth of which operate in the construction sector, supporting SMEs in effectively managing this issue has the potential to greatly improve the UK’s record in tackling modern slavery. 

Commenting on the partnership, Dr Akilah Jardine, Research Fellow at the Rights Lab, says: “We are thrilled to collaborate with CHAS on this important piece of work. Together we hope to progress understanding of SME engagement with the anti-slavery agenda, including opportunities and challenges to engage smaller businesses, and develop tailored guidance to support their members in tackling modern slavery.” 

Gareth Rondel, Sustainable Business Lead at CHAS comments: “We know that collaboration is often the key to progress in the construction industry so we are extremely pleased to be undertaking this research project with an organisation as well-respected as the University of Nottingham Rights Lab. We are looking forward to working together to help businesses better manage this issue and we are hopeful our work will have a significant impact on reducing modern slavery and human rights abuse within construction supply chains.” 

Frank Hanson, Head of Prevention and Partnerships at the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), adds: “We welcome the research collaboration between CHAS and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab to identify both the opportunities and barriers around the role SMEs can play to help prevent labour exploitation and modern slavery in the construction industry. SMEs are uniquely placed to be the eyes and ears of what is happening on construction sites up and down the country and can play a vital role in keeping workers safe.”

Picture: a chain on wood.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 09 April 2021


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