Modern slavery still an issue in UK construction projects

tower crane and building construction site silhouette at sunrise.

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A report has been published by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, which includes details of how a modern slavery gang exploited Romanian site workers for nearly a decade.

The report details the challenges faced by contractors in dealing with modern slavery issues and gives examples of best practice to reduce the risks.

Caroline Gumble, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Building stressed in response to the report, “There is absolutely no room for complacency when it comes to measures to avoid modern slavery in construction” and went on to urge “I want to echo Dame Sara Thornton’s comments that collaborative working is critical and that clients must provide support as a key part of the construction process to its supply chain.”

Following police investigation and significant assistance from an unnamed sub-contractor firm, a gang was uncovered which had attracted Romanian workers to the UK to work on a variety of construction projects. Workers were brought to the UK with promises of high wages, but then trapped with debts owed to the arrangers, accompanied with systematic isolation, intimidation and coercion. The worker’s wages were paid into bank accounts controlled by the gang, who had profited by around £2.4m from these crimes.

It is estimated that nearly 500 Romanian workers were exploited in this way between 2009 and 2018, with 30+ large and well-known construction sector companies employing workers controlled by the gang.

The construction director of the firm which worked with the police warned: “Superficially there was no obvious sign that anything was wrong. There was no sign of tension or coercion in the group, and all the paperwork and ID documents were in order. The only red flag was with payroll.” The director added: “Our advice to other organisations is, ask awkward questions. Make sure people are who you think they are. This is a bigger problem than industry realises.”

James Burgoyne, Divisional Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions says: “Modern slavery can still be a significant problem in the UK construction sector, as this case demonstrates. Whilst clearly not the only reason for considering the issue, contractual provisions around adherence to modern slavery legislation tend to be both broad and strict, and therefore the presence of issues in a project can have significant consequences for project participants.”

The report can be found here. Articles about the report and the underlying Operation Cardinas have been published by the Chartered Institute of Building and the Construction Index.

Professionalindemnity.com is owned by Brunel Professions, which is a leading professional indemnity insurance broker in the UK. Click here to get a quote or call 0345 450 1074 to speak to a broker.

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