Five years on from the Modern Slavery Act 2015, many people believe that slavery is no longer present in our modern working society, despite findings by the National Crime Agency that showed 7,000 victims of slavery were reported in 2018, figures that had doubled from the previous two years.
The Construction Industry is a perfect example of conditions for Modern Slavery. Having a heavy reliance on migrant labour and a complex network of supply chains, it is often without the knowledge of contractors that slavery practices even exist within their own supply chains.
An example of this is the prosecution of a 29-year-old Romanian gangmaster who lured seven men into coming from Romania to work in the UK on the promise of £50 a day wages and decent lodgings. As soon as the men arrived on UK soil, they were stripped of their passports and told that they owed the gangmaster a debt for work permits, rent and other expenses and were told that they would not have their passports returned until the debt as repaid in full.
They were forced to share a one-bedroom flat with up to 15 men, struggling for sleeping space on floors or old mattresses in hallways or storage cupboards whilst being put to work as demolition labourers on what was to be a refurbishment of a luxury hotel in Lancaster Gate. The Crown Prosecution Service found that the money received for the job was sufficient to have paid all of the workers and still made a profit.
The gangmaster, named as David Lupu continued controlling the lives of his victims, inflicting physical violence and threats to their safety if they challenged him, until two of the victims managed to escape and raise an alarm with the local police who subsequently arrested David Lupu on his return from a trip to Romania. He was charged and later found guilty of multiple offences including servitude or holding a person in slavery.
David Lupu was contracted as a third party by a subcontractor of Paragon, the UK´s fifth-largest housing contractor and who have a strict anti-slavery policy in place. Paragon were unaware of modern slavery in their supply chain, and they are not the only large contractor to not have visibility over all areas of their own supply chains.
The exploitation of migrant workers who work for well below minimum wage in a bid to provide for a better life in their own countries, is a common theme. Many workers from Eastern Europe take jobs that local people don´t favour doing, such as a demolition labourer – an area with a severe shortage of local laborers.
Another company that has been an unknowing participant in modern slavery is BDL Dry Lining in circumstances similar to the previous case whereby men were brought to the UK from Romania. Once in Britain, the men were told they owed huge debts to the organisers and had their identities confiscated and made to work for as little as £16 a day to repay the debt, even though the gang masters received £50 a day for each worker.
What can we do to enforce anti-slavery?
We can raise more awareness and encourage all of the big names in the industry and their supply chains to become members of the ´Construction Protocol´ which has been created by the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority in an aim to eradicating slavery and labour exploitation in the building industry.
The protocol is a joint agreement which commits signatories to:
- Work in partnership to protect vulnerable workers
- Agree to share information, where possible, to help stop or prevent the exploitation of workers
- Work together to manage information sensitively and confidentially
- Commit to raising awareness within the supply chain
- Maintain momentum through this protocol by communicating regularly
All parties to the Protocol agree to raise awareness within supply chains to help to prevent and protect workers from exploitation or abuse and take necessary steps to ensure that exploitation and abuse of workers is recognised and addressed with appropriate safeguards put in place to ensure that exploitative practice is not repeated.
Click here for more information on the Construction Protocol.