Time to act

Time to act


  • Date: Thursday 21st November 2019
  • PDF: Download

Companies need to be vigilant about possible labour exploitation in their supply chains and by contractors, both in the UK and overseas, and ensure they are behaving ethically.

Modern slavery is on the rise in the UK, and with it the impetus to take action (see ‘IOSH calls for action’ box, below). 

If your organisation is part of a supply chain, it is likely that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 affects you. With proposed changes to the legislation out for consultation, businesses would do well to improve their understanding of the issues, and of the risks involved if they fail to act.

If exploitative labour is found in a company’s supply chain, reputational damage, the loss of customer confidence and diminishing market share may result. The business could even face legal sanctions if its suppliers or contractors are involved in illegal conduct. On the other hand, a record of ethical procurement activity can encourage investment and improve employee morale.

Face of modern slavery 

Modern slavery encompasses a range of human rights abuses: from forced labour, bonded labour and human trafficking to servitude and child labour. Victims of modern slavery are unable to leave their place of exploitation, and are controlled by threats, punishment, violence, coercion and deception. 

The 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates that Britain is home to 136,000 slaves, while the National Crime Agency identified 6,993 people as potential victims of trafficking in that year – up 36% from 5,142 in 2017. 

Modern slavery in wealthier nations such as the UK is particularly lucrative for traffickers. Chronic skills shortages and falling numbers of EU workers since the referendum on Brexit in 2016, have exacerbated the problem.

The nationalities most at risk of modern slavery in 2017, according to the UK government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM), were Albanian, Chinese, Nigerian, Vietnamese and, surprisingly, British.

Many foreign workers are unaware of their rights as employees and may be unable to communicate because of language restrictions. There are also clear links between trafficking, modern slavery and homelessness, charities have found.

Since slavery can take many forms, ranging from a refusal to provide holiday pay to imprisoning workers, it can be difficult to spot, and the individuals could be working in legitimate businesses. 

Construction ranks second only to the sex industry as the sector most prone to exploitation, according to a report last year from the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). Other industries identified as most at risk in the UK include agriculture, hotels and restaurants, care homes, car washes, cleaning and nail salons.

Source: IOSH Magazine


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