Exclusive: The Metropolitan Police has seen a massive increase in allegations of labour exploitation and modern slavery, Construction News can reveal.
Speaking to CN as part of its six-month investigation into slavery and the black market, the Met’s head of modern slavery and kidnap unit DCI Phil Brewer said the reasons for the rise in cases were twofold.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of allegations of exploitation connected – particularly with labour exploitation – around construction,” he told CN.
“Some of that it is to do with awareness in terms of the general public recognising potential modern slavery and reporting that.
“Secondly, it’s the workers realising that they are being seriously had over and are certainly a lot keener to report what’s happening to them.”
DCI Brewer said that, while allegations of wrongdoing within the sector were on the rise, prosecutions remained rare as victims were reluctant to support criminal cases.
“When it comes to prosecutions, labour exploitation is so difficult to get people on side to make statements.
“The fact is that we have more success with things such as sexual exploitation because the majority of victims are female; there is quite a strong network for finding them support through non-government organisations and charities, and they are more willing to engage in those processes for support.”
More: CN’s investigation
For the last six months, CN has been investigating construction’s black market.
This has involved visits to pick-up points in the car parks of DIY stores and builders’ warehouses across London used by unscrupulous clients to obtain cheap labour.
The investigation involved hours of speaking via a translator to the Romanian workers that wait at these spots for jobs.
CN discovered how workers are consistently being exploited and, in the worst cases, how alleged “pimps” profit by supplying workers for construction sites.
Several of the men CN spoke to had been injured on site, threatened by criminals, left unpaid at the end of work-days, or even abandoned far from where they lived.
Responding to the investigation’s findings, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime Sophie Linden said: “I applaud Construction News for shining a light on the stain of modern slavery in the construction industry.
“These crimes have no place in our city or anywhere in the world. Of course, these crimes are in no way typical of the industry and most of London’s construction firms treat their employees fairly.”
Human Trafficking Foundation’s head of office Kate Roberts said: “It is time that the high-level commitments on combating slavery are followed through to measures which make a practical difference to those who are living this every day.
“If workers believe that exploitative and risky employment is their only option, the traffickers will always win.
“Workers need to know that if they come forward and seek help they will be given options, including safety, security and a chance at decent employment.
“Companies such as the Co-op have shown with their Bright Future scheme that providing victims with work works for the victims and the company.
“However, companies can only employ people who have permission to work. Without legal routes for employment, illegal and dangerous employment will thrive.”
A Home Office spokesperson responded to CN’s article with the following statement: “This is a global issue where the UK government has shown international leadership, which is why we are working with countries such as Romania to strengthen co-operation to prevent these crimes, better protect victims and pursue offenders.
“But there is more we can all do to tackle this crime, including business, and last month the Home Office wrote to the CEOs of 17,000 businesses calling on them to set out what they are doing to tackle slavery in their own supply chains.”
CN has also submitted its findings to the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act at the request of MP Frank Field’s team.
Mr Field is leading the review of Britain’s modern slavery legislation.
He said: “The review is considering how the context has changed since the Modern Slavery Act was introduced, where the act is working well, what can be improved in the implementation of the act and whether specific areas of the legislation need to be changed.
“We will make sure to study these findings closely and we’ll also seek to ensure that any lessons from them are applied.”