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Construction heavyweights sign up to new ethical labour commitments

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A collective of seven of the UK’s largest contractors brought together by SCAPE, have reaffirmed their commitment to eradicating modern day slavery in the construction industry to mark World Anti-Slavery Day 2021.

Leading national contractors including Balfour Beatty, Kier, Morgan Sindall, Willmott Dixon, Mace, Sisk and McLaughlin & Harvey have all pledged to increase their efforts to tackle unethical supply chain practices and boost employment opportunities for survivors of modern slavery.

The pledges will see independent 24/7 modern slavery helplines established across SCAPE projects to support victims and whistle-blowers in reporting concerns or incidences. Representing a buying power of £18bn, we are currently performance managing more than 1,800 live, taxpayer funded projects across the UK, and we are committed to ensuring that every project is delivered with ethical labour.

The Ethical Labour working group operated under the advice of global supply chain organisation ACHILLES and Mark Heath of Mercaston Solutions, a consultancy advising businesses on modern slavery and a former deputy director at the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.

More than 10,000 people in the UK have been identified as potential victims of modern slavery, according to the Home Office’s latest annual figures, although the total number is likely to be much greater. Reports of suspected modern slavery cases in construction were higher than in any other industry during the first Covid lockdown, according to figures from modern slavery charity Unseen.

The profound impact of human trafficking was underlined to the group when they heard directly from a survivor of modern slavery, now employed by Radiant Cleaners, a Nottingham based social enterprise.

“It was good to find people who treat me well after being treated so badly… it has restored my faith that there are employers who treat people fairly.” modern slavery survivor now employed by Radiant Cleaners

The survivor, who chose to remain anonymous, spoke to the group about his experience and the rehabilitation he received from the Salvation Army. Employed since by Matt Parfitt of Radiant Cleaners, he has been able to begin rebuilding his life, and his story showed the very real cost that sits behind headline industry figures.

Radiant Cleaners exists to help people who have faced major barriers to work. Employing survivors totally fits with our values

Matt Parfitt, managing director, Radiant Cleaners

Matt continued, "Being able to pay the real Living Wage to someone who has been enslaved is a privilege. Finding interpreters, working with pastoral support from agencies like the Salvation Army, going the extra mile… it is all worth it to see people who have been through so much have hope again."

The firms involved will also increase their engagement with social enterprises who support survivors of modern slavery through the Social Partnership Portal, which was launched September 2021. The new digital platform will enable industry to engage with an extensive network of socially focused and accredited suppliers, increasing the employment opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery.

Modern slavery has no place in an economy as developed as the UK’s, and yet it still maintains a presence in some of our most important industries – construction included.

Mark Robinson, group chief executive at SCAPE

Mark continued: “The public sector must always act as a flagbearer in stamping unethical practice out, setting standards and stimulating positive change through the partners it works with.

“As World Anti-Slavery Day reminds us of the increased need for action post-pandemic, the collective power of this group of major contractors in the coming years – combined with best-in-class procurement practices – can go a long way to improving our industry’s record and ultimately lift people out of slavery.”

The Ethical Labour Working Group will collaborate in creating industry best-practice guidance in relation to workforce engagement and labour audits.

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