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Modern Slavery and exploitation in supply chains

Industry Insights

Modern Slavery and exploitation in supply chains

Modern slavery and exploitation can take many forms, from victims of human trafficking to forced or bonded labour but where do you think the risks are? In a recent webinar delivered in partnership with Unseen UK, 40% of attendees believed the main risks lie in the construction industry whereas only 13% voted for facilities, waste and event management. Despite construction being identified as the highest sector of forced labour and labour abuse during the first lockdown last year, it’s a common misconception that modern slavery only occurs in certain industries. Unfortunately, it is an issue that concerns many industries including facilities, waste and event management.

What are the most common trends?

According to Courtenay Forbes Account Manager at Unseen UK, sectors such as construction, repairs/maintenance, raw material, facilities/waste/event management, third-party recruitment, logistics and transportation are really emerging in terms of the number of cases that they’re seeing. Based on the Helpline 2020 Annual Assessment report, there were 107 cases of Modern Slavery in the construction sector, over 350 potential victims indicated. In addition, 95 cases of labour abuse were reported in the construction industry. Looking at repairs/maintenance, 8 cases of modern slavery were reported with 12 potential victims and this is likely to rise post pandemic. Additionally, as the UK left the EU, this has been impacted on the lack of employment for low-skilled and low-pay EU workers.

According to Adam Whitfield, Quality Assurance and Audit Programme Manager at Achilles, despite the disruption of COVID-19, we interviewed over 500 workers in 2020 with our Ethical Business Programme (formally Labour Practice Audits). Some key insights to highlight are the fact that 52% of all workers interviewed were not required to provide original copies of appropriate documentation as evidence of eligibility to work and 23% were required to pay administration or management fees of up to 10% of their weekly earnings. Regarding identification checks, due to COVID-19 there have been a wide variety of methods for checking right to work or bank account details for employees. For instance, Text and WhatsApp have also been used as means of checking right to work documents without having seen the individual.

How to spot the warning signs of Modern Slavery and Exploitation?

There are many warning signs of modern slavery and exploitation which can be easily identified, some of the most important ones are:

– Workers without access to original personal ID, passport, documents
– Inability to speak any English or reliance on “translator”
– Shared bank accounts, discrepancies
– Houses of multiple occupation
– Driven to / from work in groups, at unsocial hours
– Seeming tired, withdrawn, anxious at work
– Unwillingness to engage with well-intended question

Taking a proactive role is key: Remediation rather than disciplinary reaction

Engaging in active monitoring of your supply chain and keeping communication lines open with suppliers is key to tackling modern slavery in supply chains and ensuring business success. We can help you raise standards across your supply chain and improve your business performance. Asking the right questions is the first step.

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