Modern slavery claims hit major UK infrastructure programs

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is urging UK contractors to face up to the significant human rights risks in their supply chains, with the launch of a new report that finds both British and foreign workers at risk of exploitation. 

According to the COIB, examples of labour exploitation have been found on hospital projects, power plants, recycling centres, renovation projects and demolition sites. Problems are set at the top of supply chains with lowest cost tendering, abuse of the retentions system and late payment pricing out ethical practice. The situation is creating an imbalance of power that leaves all nationalities vulnerable to exploitation.

The report highlights:

  • How industry is conflating immigration checks with modern slavery checks. This is ineffective because many people trapped in modern slavery have a legitimate right to work in the UK.
  • Severe weaknesses in commercial auditing models, with auditors disincentivised to report problems to the police
  • Poor transparency in supply chain reporting standards, with many eligible companies failing to produce a modern slavery report in the first annual reporting cycle. A significant number of published statements do not follow minimum legal requirements, including being visible on the company homepage and being signed off by a board director.
  • A tendency for companies to water down their modern slavery statements to remove mention of risk, against the spirit of the Modern Slavery Act
  • Examples of sharp practice, with major players defaulting to legal compliance exercises that push responsibility onto their less well-resourced suppliers. This is also against the spirit of the legislation.

Access the report here.


Sonja Duncan