Construction Industry urged to do more to combat slavery

Modern slavery is sadly a persistent problem here in the UK. It’s an issue that affects men, women and children –  across towns, cities and rural areas. Modern slavery arises when organisations or individuals disregard human rights in the name of profit, creating a trap for vulnerable people and forcing them to endure poor living and working conditions, and quite often physical harm, with little hope of escape.

In construction, modern slavery creates a very particular problem because of the lack of proper training, inadequate equipment and poorly regulated working conditions can result in a very real risk to life. It’s an issue we should all be taking seriously, and not just because the law requires us to. At Constructionline, we have systems and processes in place to help purchasing teams make more ethical choices; prioritising due diligence for your peace of mind and ensuring complete compliance in your procurement processes.

Ministers want firms to tackle issues like modern slavery and climate change.

The UK, which spends £49bn with outside organisations every year, will also try to award more contracts to small firms.

It is “morally right” for the UK to make certain demands of companies taking taxpayers’ money, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington will say.

When drawing up public contracts, the government will now be looking at:

  • Firms that employ people from diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities and from ethnic minorities
  • How companies reduce modern slavery and cyber-security risks in their supply chains
  • Businesses that are focused on environmental sustainability
  • Companies that boost employees’ employability potential through staff training

However, the government stressed that the changes to public procurement would not add complexity or increased costs to the process.

“By making sure that these social values are reflected not just across the government, but through all the companies we work with, we will take a major step towards our goal of creating an economy that works for everyone,” Mr Lidington will say.

Your legal obligations covered

On 11 March, the UK Government announced its intentions for public sector buyers to place greater demands on its suppliers to improve society and one of the measures named is for those suppliers to demonstrate a commitment to reduce modern slavery risks1. Since the inception of the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) in 2015, businesses from both the public and private sector with a turnover of £36 million or more are required to publish an annual online Transparency in the Supply Chain (TISC) statement which details the steps they are taking to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking. In fact, adherence to the MSA forms part of the Cabinet Office Selection Questionnaire, which public sector organisations are expected to comply with.

Some of the minimum recommendations are that businesses of all sizes should:

  • Ensure all UK workers receive minimum wage and robust immigration checks
  • Map supply chains to identify where the highest risk and exposure to modern slavery exists
  • Undertake site inspections
  • Provide training to employees and local suppliers on modern slavery risks and compliance
  • Review supplier contracts to include obligations to comply with the Modern Slavery Act 2015

In addition to this, all organisations who contract with the public sector are required to comply with the fundamentals of MSA.

We make it easier for buyers to report compliance across their supply chain by giving them complete access to the data we hold on more than 30,000 contractors, consultants and material suppliers, including details of their action on modern slavery. While we’ve historically carried questions asking suppliers to disclose their employees’ eligibility to work in the UK, we’ve also more recently updated our data collection question sets to fit closely around supplier business type and how this relates to the requirements of MSA. Questions are now adapted to suit three distinct groups of members:

  • Contractors
  • Consultants
  • Material suppliers

Irrelevant questions have been removed from each sub-section, new questions have been added where required, and all have been tailored to ensure that it’s as easy as possible for suppliers to provide the essential information procurement teams need to make ethical and compliant purchasing decisions.

It’s worth mentioning that the changes we’ve made mean that all questions remain aligned with PAS91 regulations and satisfy the Public Contract Regulations (PCR)2015 –  but that responsible and sustainable sourcing is given the extra attention it requires.

Simplifying compliance for public sector procurement teams

When it comes to Public Sector supply contracts, we understand that anything which can lessen the burden associated with what is understandably a highly regulated process is of significant value to procurement teams. It’s for this reason that we ensure they have MSA obligations covered from the offset.

The Pre-Qualification Questionnaire provides a perfect opportunity for the integration of modern slavery compliance requirements. Whilst MSA compliance could also be considered a few steps later – within the criteria used to choose the winning tender – it makes sense to streamline earlier for a more time efficient evaluation stage. We validate companies’ MSA compliance as standard in our Gold membership, so buyers can be sure that all Gold suppliers have demonstrated compliance with a wider-reaching set of criteria. Users of the platform can also be sure the information they see is complete, accurate and up to date thanks to our stringent validation processes.

Protecting workers and protecting your business

With modern slavery in the spotlight, it makes both commercial and ethical sense to ensure that your supply chain is 100% exploitation-free. Complex supply chains, increased levels of sub-contracting and a frustrating lack of transparency can often all combine to make this a difficult task, which is why we’re working hard to reverse the tide.  To find out more about how Constructionline can help your business make cost-savings without compromising on compliance, get in touch with our team of experts.

Charity Anti-Slavery International has welcomed the UK’s efforts to stamp out modern slavery, but it wants to see the government do even more.

Modern slavery is occurring across the UK, with a higher percentage of incidents in industries such as domestic work, construction, agriculture, catering and hand car washes.

“At the moment big businesses are made to report slavery in the supply chain, but there are no penalties for either failing to submit the statement, or whether you report that it exists,” Jakub Sobik, a spokesman for Anti-Slavery International told the BBC.

Modern slavery is merely at one end of a spectrum of exploitative practices, and steps need to be taken to combat the practice of forcing employees to work overtime due to unrealistic targets, he added.

The government also needs to stop companies from driving the price down during the bidding process.

“We would like the government to make sure that the price they pay is right for the services,” said Mr Sobik.

“If the price they’re being paid for the services is not high enough to make sure they pay the staff fairly – this is one of the reasons that companies might use exploitative practices.”

If you wish the full report from the CIOB is here

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