Stronger Together and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) recently launched a series of free practical resources, ranging from workplace posters and multi-language worker leaflets to one-day seminars, in an effort to tackle modern slavery in the construction sector. The initiative is supported and contributed to by some major firms in the industry, including Saint-Gobain, Westfield, Multiplex and Willmott Dixon. A similar initiative in retail, launched in October 2013, led to major company- and industry-level initiatives, as we shall see below. Supporting partners of the current programme include: Anti-Slavery International, Crimestoppers, the government body Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), and the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB).
Stronger Together states that detected cases of forced labour and labour trafficking within the U.K. construction sector are increasing, despite focus on the issue. The group adds that many businesses are not aware that modern slavery may be taking place within their operations and supply chains because they are “hidden crimes undertaken by exploitative individuals and criminal gangs.”
The group defines hidden labour exploitation as “exploitation of job applicants or workers by third party individuals or gangs other than the employer or labour provider including rogue individuals working within these businesses but without the knowledge of management.” This includes:
forced labour and human trafficking for labour exploitation;
payment for work-finding service; and
work-related exploitation such as forced use of accommodation, often accompanied by confiscation of money, identification papers, passports and other certificates.
Forced labour is well-hidden by the perpetrators, and victims are afraid to come forward because of fear of physical violence as well as threats of arrest and/or deportation. The companies are working together to provide construction companies, their clients and sub-contractors with the sector specific guidance they need to address modern slavery and comply with the U.K. Modern Slavery Act requirements. The U.K. Modern Slavery Act was signed into law in 2015 and includes, among many other requirements, a requirement for businesses with an annual turnover of over £36 million in the U.K. to publicly disclose the steps, if any, “taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in any part of its business or in its supply chains.”
Stronger Together introduced a similar initiative two years ago in October 2013 for the consumer goods industry. The earlier initiative was sponsored by nine major U.K. supermarkets: Aldi, Asda, Co-op Food, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.
The consumer goods initiative has resulted in major positive developments in the industry. For example, Tesco states that it has begun to monitor whether salaries are paid on time and in full in key countries. This is to ensure that workers are not in debt and are therefore less vulnerable to any risk of forced labour. Checks have identified shortfalls in payment, and the supermarket chain then requires suppliers to pay back any avoided wages. Where they refuse “existing shipments may be cancelled and we will no longer do business with them.” Last year, the chain identified “165 cases of concern involving 158 sites. 26,723 workers received a total of US$1,005,400 as a result of Tesco’s intervention.” The chain was also able to end a longstanding payment dispute; this resulted in 406 workers receiving $1,267,242.
Policy Commitments Template
The company shall:
Designate appropriate managers (who/job title) to attend “Tackling Modern Slavery” training and to have responsibility for developing and operating company procedures relevant to this issue.
Accept that job finding fees are a business cost, and will not allow these to be paid by job applicants. The Company will not use any individual or organisation to source and supply workers without confirming that workers are not being charged a work finding fee.
Ensure that all staff responsible for directly recruiting workers are aware of issues around third party labour exploitation and signs to look for and have signed appropriate Compliance Principles (see template on www.stronger2gether.org).
Ensure that labour sourcing, recruitment and worker placement processes are under the control of trusted and competent staff members.
Adopt a proactive approach to reporting suspicions of hidden worker exploitation to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and police.
Provide information on tackling modern slavery to our workforce through (list formats e.g. in a variety of formats such as workplace posters, worker leaflets, induction, other training.)
Encourage workers to report cases of hidden third party labour exploitation, provide the means to do so and investigate and act on reports appropriately.
Positively encourage and support employees and agency workers to report such exploitation which may be occurring within their communities (detail how).
Require labour providers and other organisations in the labour supply chain to adopt policies and procedures consistent with the above.
Source: HR Policy on preventing hidden labour exploitation
Other initiatives are more general. Tesco has undertaken to extend the application of the Recruitment Charter to other areas of its business. It has joined the Leadership Group for Responsible Recruitment supported by the IHRB. On the supply chain side, in April this year, it has published a list of all its F&F clothing and footwear suppliers to increase transparency. It also launched the Food Network for Ethical Trade programme with suppliers and other retailers “to identify human rights abuses upstream in our shared supply chains.” Finally, and specifically in line with the initiative, it has undertaken to ensure all U.K.-based suppliers, including non-food suppliers and labour agencies, have attended Stronger Together training on addressing modern day slavery.
The resources for the construction sector initiative include an interactive training session developed with the CIOB and delivered by experts from the sector, checklists for employers and labour providers, and templates for HR policies on preventing hidden labour exploitation, recruiter compliance principles, questionnaires and interview questions for workers, records for potential third-party exploitations, bribery and corruption policies, risk screening tools, policies on ethical trade and forced labour as well as the responsible use of labour providers, supplier visits and human rights self-assessment questionnaires.
There are also comprehensive remedial tools available that should cover the following questions:
Have you investigated the violations effectively, promptly, thoroughly and impartially and, where appropriate, taken action against those allegedly responsible in accordance with domestic and international law?
Have you provided the victims of the human rights abuse with access to justice, irrespective of who may be responsible for the violation?
Have you provided effective remedy to the victims, including reparation?
Have you considered what needs to change to ensure that the abuses do not reoccur?
Details of information gathered for remedy should include location, dates and nature of human rights abuse and the individuals and/or organisations responsible, investigations, access to justice, remedies requested and implemented, compensation, restoration and rehabilitation, such as return of property, payment of due wages, medical, psychological and social service care, and the involvement of suppliers, NGOs and charities, the victim’s family and local or national government in the remedy and investigation.