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What are you doing to tackle modern slavery?

Amanda Wright 20 Dec 2018

You may have heard the term ‘modern slavery’ a lot recently, and although generally thought of as an overseas issue, or something resigned to the history books, it is not. It is happening right now in the UK, and globally there are an estimated 45 million people enslaved in 167 countries (CIOB, 2018).

Modern slavery can be hard to identify as it is not about ‘owning’ someone, but about the exploitation and control of someone. Examples include forced labour, human trafficking and, most commonly, debt bonding (when people have to work to pay back debt but have no control over their employment or debt conditions).

Some of the industries that are more at risk include agriculture, hospitality, manufacturing, car washes, and, most notably, construction. In 2015, the UK brought in the Modern Slavery Act, making it a criminal offense for a person or organisation to engage in any form of ‘modern slavery’ practices. The Act has also pushed the issue firmly into the spotlight and requires many companies to publicly state what they are doing to tackle modern slavery in their own supply chains.

Although, tackling modern slavery is difficult. The construction industry is inherently reliant on a flexible and often temporary workforce, and the widespread reliance on multiple suppliers for materials makes it difficult to achieve full transparency in supply chains. At BAM, we are committed to combatting slavery throughout our operations and those associated with our business. Modern slavery is not a standalone issue, but one that forms part of our approach to ensuring we treat people with dignity and respect, and source goods and services responsibly. 

Since 2016 we have been getting to grips with the issue and working with our peers in industry to understand the risks and what we can do about them. We have updated procedures, rolled out a new information hub and started to promote e-learning modules to raise awareness. Our confidential ‘speak-up’ hotline also allows staff and stakeholders to report any concerns or issues. There is much more to do though. During 2018, we’ve worked with Action sustainability to perform a gap analysis of our approach to tackling modern slavery. Getting an outside view of our performance is important, especially with a subject that is still relatively new to us. We now have a host of recommendations to work on mapped out over the next 2-5 years. In the first instance, there is a lot of engagement to do, with our own staff and our supply chain.

In November 2018, we started the next phase of our work, partnering with the Supply Chain Sustainability School to hold a training and awareness day in Bristol. Tim Chell, BAM Western Regional Director, opened the day to more than 25 BAM-wide staff and many of our supply chain members. Hosted by Helen Carter, who was recently named in the Top 100 Modern Slavery Influencers in the UK, the face-to-face training day was a great platform to raise awareness to our staff and subcontractors.

Tim Chell and Helen Carter introducing the day

Many of the subcontractors who attended had a turnover of less than £35m – the threshold by law to produce a Modern Slavery Disclosure statement, so it provided a perfect opportunity to help these subcontractors learn more about the topic and highlight the support available to them. One simple, but important question was established, which every subcontractor should ask their suppliers: what are you doing to tackle modern slavery?

With the Modern Slavery Act 2015 applying to all organisations, regardless of size, we all need to consider how we can work our supply chains to tackle modern slavery, as this is an issue no one company, or industry, can tackle alone.


Amanda Wright is a Sustainability Advisor at BAM

If you would like to talk to us about sustainability, contact us.



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