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We are fighting back against the rise of modern slavery

Ian Waterfield

The experiences people described in such detail in CN’s report on labour exploitation are sadly more common than they should be in the construction industry.

UK construction employs around three million people and we recognise its importance to the country’s economy. However, we also consider it to be a high-risk sector for labour exploitation because of its sheer size, and the fact that organised criminal gangs believe they can profit from using workers as commodities.

The exploitation of these vulnerable workers comes in many forms. Pay is a major issue, with some workers receiving as little as £5 a day. Others are simply not paid at all. Deception of workers’ self-employed status is also frequent, especially when they are unaware of their employment rights.

Safety is a serious concern, particularly when workers have not been given the right training to operate potentially dangerous machinery. Research by the Health and Safety Executive has shown that the construction industry accounts for 22 per cent of fatal injuries, even though it accounts for just 5 per cent of the UK workforce.

Targeting perpetrators

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority is taking this problem very seriously. We have made more than 100 modern slavery arrests across the labour market in the last year and identified over 1,000 workers suffering direct abuse.

Earlier this month, we arrested a Romanian man on suspicion of modern slavery and human trafficking offences in east London. In recent months, we have made arrests in south London and Coventry, all based on intelligence that workers were being exploited in the construction sector. 

But our enforcement activity is only one way of tackling this problem.

Join the partnership

Last year we launched our Construction Protocol, which is a joint agreement with some of the biggest names in the sector aimed at eradicating modern slavery and labour exploitation. More than 40 companies have committed to work in partnership with us, share information and raise awareness of exploitation in their supply chains.

We all have a responsibility to prevent these terrible crimes from happening. If you suspect someone is being exploited in construction, please contact our intelligence team on 0800 432 0804.

We can make sure victims are safeguarded and bring those responsible for the exploitation to justice.

Ian Waterfield is director of operations at the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority

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