Tackling modern slavery in construction

Tackling modern slavery in construction

Ciara writes:

Preventing modern slavery is something I feel passionate about.

I’m proud of the way we are working to remove the risk of labour exploitation within our company and our industry.

It’s not a small problem. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people are caught in slavery today. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 40.3% per cent of these are in forced labour. It is incredible to think that this is even possible in today’s society.

The construction industry’s reliance on subcontracting arrangements results in multiple layers of contracting and subcontracting on site. This increases the risk of forced labour going unnoticed. Despite sub-contracting agreements, a tier one contractor may have limited knowledge of the exact terms and conditions of the people working for subcontractors.

FLEX’s new report Risky Business: Tackling Exploitation in the UK Labour Market exposes the root causes of labour exploitation in the UK. It sets out how to prevent it by tackling the attitudes, practices and gaps in protection that allow exploitation to thrive.

Reducing the risk of exploitation

A key part of VGC’s business is labour supply to the construction and rail industries. We examined all the stages in our recruitment and people management processes to reduce the risk of exploitation.

We have a fair and open recruitment process and we engage our people on clear and transparent contracts and terms of engagement. This includes:

  • face-to-face interviews
  • reviewing how people identify our vacancies
  • detailed passport, visa, qualification and employment history checks
  • ensuring people are paid into their own bank accounts
  • and ongoing meetings and performance reviews with our workers to assess their progress, behaviour and appearance.
Checking right to work in UK
Our HR team is Home Office trained to check passports and visas.

Also, we ensure everyone is paid the market rate for their work, and that there are opportunities for them to develop and grow within our organisation through training and promotion opportunities.

Our high levels of compliance and support for our workforce have led to labour supply contracts on major infrastructure projects across the UK.

One step further

We wanted to go one step further and measure our processes and practices, to ensure that forced labour and human trafficking cannot ever form part of our workforce or supply chain.

Our aim was to go beyond statutory provisions, to set a benchmark for best practice across the industry.

In February this year the VGC Group became one of only three companies in the UK – and the only labour company – to achieve the Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard BES 6002 (ELS).

The ELS is a framework to measure and recognise companies which demonstrate responsible labour sourcing and supply practices. It provides third party assurance of good practice and planned continuous improvement.

To gain the ELS we were assessed against a number of indicators including

  • organisational structure, leadership and governance
  • HR, learning and development
  • procurement and supply chain management
  • feedback, forums, measurement and reporting.

The intensive assessment process to achieve this prestigious standard made us look deeply into our business and our supply chain. Following this we created an action plan to raise the bar and have a significant affect at local level.

Going forward

Being ethical in how we treat our people and deliver our activities is embedded in the fabric of our organisation. We will continue to improve the way we do things so that modern slavery cannot ever form part of our supply chain. And we will share our experiences and processes to help everyone in the industry.

We are presenting on modern slavery – how to spot the signs and what to do – to all our staff members in a rolling programme across the next four months. By the end of February every one of our employees will know what to look for and how to report any concerns.

If you want to hear more about how the VGC team is working to remove the risk of labour exploitation, I will be speaking at the Modern Slavery and Ethical Labour in Construction Leadership Symposium 2018 on 27 September at RIBA.

In the meantime there are many online resources. Two very powerful films that I would recommend are:

Visit www.stronger2gether.org/construction for more information and free resources to tackle modern slavery in the construction sector.

Ciara Pryce
Author: Ciara Pryce, group services director