We tend to think of modern slavery as mainly concerned with sexual abuse of young women brought to this country by people traffickers, not as something that might exist on a site next to us. Yet the recent call by the CIOB for UK contractors to face up to “significant human rights risks in their supply chain,” has brought the subject to the forefront and the factors the CIOB have highlighted are ones that we are well aware of even in a medium-sized recruitment firm like Peace.
In particular, the CIOB’s report emphasises that the current pressures on the industry are creating the conditions where the people traffickers/slave traders can thrive. It may seem ridiculous to complain about such standard practices as late payment and aggressive business models, but it’s there that the rot begins. The report also highlights problems with low cost tendering, driving down margins and tempting suppliers to turn a blind eye to just how they deliver these reduced prices. And, of course, at the heart of the problem is recruitment. Immigration checks ought to be part and parcel of any good recruitment exercise, but these are not always conducted as rigorously as they might be. In short, the desire to make a buck trumps the need to run businesses as ethically as they ought to be run.
At Peace we’ve never seen this ourselves, but we’re aware of stories where workers have been exploited by being put up in caravans and paid cash in hand for fewer hours than they work, by companies that are desperate to win business and consequently are prepared to game the system (to put it politely). For any candidate worried about this, one of the key things to do is make sure you’re not being paid in cash: any reputable firm or recruiter will always have a payroll and all transactions and timesheets will be available for scrutiny. We make sure all our candidates are properly screened and checked and it’s incumbent on all construction recruiters, especially those such as Peace that have large trades and labour sections, to be extremely careful with every aspect of candidate management.
However large of small, the recruitment industry has a key role to play here and it can – and should take the moral high ground. If there is any doubt, we should not only refuse to work with anyone or any firm who we suspect of involvement in modern slavery but we should also report them to the authorities. If all recruiters take the same line, it will be one way in which we can start to remove the scourge of slave labour in this country, not just in construction but in all industries.
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment