Today (Tuesday, 18th October) is Anti-Slavery Day and the perfect opportunity to turn the spotlight on government policy and business practice by asking for evidence of the steps that have been taken - and the progress made, towards eradicating the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking.
For UK construction, the results of a new survey by the Supply Chain School highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of industry efforts to tackle the issue.
The Modern Slavery Act (MSA) was heralded as a first for Europe on its pre-Brexit introduction, 12 months ago. The good news from a sample survey of the 14,000 construction industry members of the Supply Chain School is that around 3 out of every 4 respondents said they know what the Act covers (75 per cent) and how it affects their organisation (74 per cent).
The bad news is that more than half (51 per cent) of those surveyed either do not know, or are unsure what actual steps to take if they encounter modern slavery in their business or supply chain.
"Although more still needs to be done to raise awareness” concludes Shaun McCarthy OBE, Chair of the Supply Chain School, “the big priority now is to help those already aware to move to action. It is time to graduate from talking to doing.”
Importantly, when asked whether the UK should take a leadership role on the issue – as proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May, who pledged £33 Million in funding to help fight exploitation – the survey response was hugely positive, with 84 per cent voting in agreement. This endorsement suggests a clear mandate for construction to be both visible and vocal on this matter, argues Sustainable Procurement Consultant Helen Carter, lead author of the Supply Chain School guidance on modern slavery:
“The Modern Slavery Act is now a year old and whilst organisations are aware of its contents there needs to be a strong and decisive step by all tiers of the supply chain to work together to turn awareness to action. It will be challenging, but this is not a race – it is an ongoing imperative. Effective and long-lasting change has to happen to ensure we are making it near-impossible for slavery and forced labour to exist on our projects and in our materials and services.”
The authoritative industry guidance published by the School has been backed up with e-learning modules, workshops, toolbox talk materials and more, in a drive to provide the industry with a go-to resource for what to do next.
Turning policy into practice means introducing new measures as well as updates to existing procedures, explains Dan Firth, Sustainable Procurement Manager, Interserve Support Services and Chair of the MSA Special Interest Group (SIG) at the Supply Chain School:
“To make a real difference, companies in the facilities management and construction supply chains will need to introduce changes to their recruitment processes and develop the capability of their staff to recognise modern slavery in workers brought onsite by subcontractors. They will also need to embed modern slavery prevention in their procurement processes. The work that the Supply Chain School SIG has done provides guidance on current best practice and how to go about this.”
These practical measures are precisely the kind of next steps needed at the implementation stage, agrees Sarah Pratt, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Barratt Developments:
“As the UK’s largest housebuilder we’re committed to trading ethically and have zero tolerance for modern slavery. But that’s not just words, we’re taking action too. We have reviewed our exposure right across the business and included specific requirements within our contract terms and conditions, plus signposting to a dedicated whistleblowing hotline.
“To mark Anti-Slavery Day 2016, an enabling programme of MSA training is also being launched to support all those with responsibility for recruitment of staff, subcontractors, agency and temporary workers.”
As a key participant in the MSA SIG, Barratt ensures all its supplier members have access to School learning and resources to help them combat modern slavery and trafficking, as part of a wider corporate sustainability framework and building excellence vision.
For leading UK landscape materials brand Marshalls, also a Partner in the School, equipping employees and installers with the know-how to spot the warning signs and empowering them to play their part helps ensure the company does not itself become a victim of modern slavery, exploited by the organised criminals responsible for human trafficking.
Marshalls can evidence a long track-record of pioneering responsible and ethical sourcing, working with various UN agencies, but still sees significant positive effects and collaborative potential in connection with the new Act, says Elaine Mitchel-Hill, Marshalls Business & Human Rights Lead:
“It’s our experience that The Modern Slavery Act has served to propel our business even more to engage on a much wider and deeper basis with our stakeholders. We’re working with key suppliers on accelerated education and training programmes, engaged in informative ‘buddy’ relationships with other large and global businesses, as well as with anti-trafficking and human rights organisations, plus supporting our local Police and Crime Commissioner. The recognition that progress can only truly be made through action-oriented collaborations is tangible.”
On Anti-Slavery Day, the clear message for construction is that now is the time to act, together, on modern slavery and human trafficking. There is a mandate for the industry in the UK to lead by example on this issue and fight to eradicate exploitation. The question is: What are you going to do about it?
About Anti-Slavery Day (18 October 2016)
Anti-Slavery Day was created in 2010 by a Private Members Bill introduced by Anthony Steen CBE, then MP for Totnes. Raising awareness and inspiring action, it has grown significantly since then and each year more and more charities, individuals, local authorities and police forces take action to mark Anti-Slavery Day – more info can be found here.
About the Modern Slavery Act
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 became law in the UK Parliament on 26 March 2015. Officially coming into force as of 29 October last year, its Transparency in Supply Chains Provisions require businesses with an annual turnover of £36M or more to publish a yearly statement. Official Government legislative documents and supporting publications can be found here.
Further dedicated information for the construction industry, plus an extensive library of publications, videos and resources, can be found on the website of the Supply Chain School here.
Further information about the Modern Slavery Act Supplier Day, being held by the Supply Chain School to mark Anti-Slavery Day 2016, can be found here.