Sadly and unbeknownst to many people, slavery did not end with abolition in the 19th century. It is estimated that there are 27 million slaves in the world today, many of these work in the global construction industry. According to the charitable organisation ‘Free the Slaves’, these desperate individuals come with an average price tag on their head of £67.51 each – How much is your life worth?

A new report by LexisNexis BIS, called Hidden in Plain Site – Modern Slavery in the Construction Industry, has analysed articles from more than 6,000 licensed news sources in more than 100 countries in Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, Africa and Asia between January 2015 and May 2016.

It shows that throughout the global construction industry and its material supply chains, forced labour and other exploitation that constitutes modern slavery are common, concealed and subject to inadequate prevention, policing and prosecution.

It concludes that governments, businesses and the media all have a role to play in combating modern slavery.

The report follows a pledge by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in July to spend £33 million on global initiatives to tackle modern slavery. She described it as “the great human rights issue of our time.”

Mark Dunn, Director at LexisNexis Business Insights Solutions, notes “Our report shows that there is a strong risk of forced labour taking place in the construction industry and its supply chains. Given that the construction industry employs an estimated 7% of the global workforce, this means countless thousands of workers are leading lives of misery and injustice.

“Forced labour needs to move up the global agenda. A wide range of stakeholders – international bodies, governments and the public sector, industry organisations, construction companies, investors, the media and civil society – have roles to play in preventing and avoiding collusion in worker exploitation in the construction industry. LexisNexis BIS is committed to actively working to advance the rule of law, through its day-to-day business, products and services, and its actions.”

Kevin Hyland OBE, UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said “I am pleased to see numerous sectors waking up to the crime of Modern Slavery, and the Lexis Nexis BIS report excellently educates those in the construction industry on this evil crime.

“Businesses, government and civil society have a crucial role in combatting modern slavery, and this report highlights just that. Through responsible media reporting, businesses especially are encouraged to be open about supply chains, and ultimately protect those most at risk of exploitation.

“Those in construction are especially vulnerable to this crime; with high demand for low wage labour, we must therefore strive to see a thriving construction industry that values ethical recruitment and fair employment if we ever hope to end this evil trade in human beings.’

The report is based on desk research, expert insights and analysis of wide-ranging media coverage. It defines the scope and many aspects of the problem, and breaks it down according to region (Europe, Middle East, North and South America, Africa, Asia) and the procurement of specific building materials. Relevant international regulation and standards frameworks, along with individual countries’ legislative measures (or lack of them), are examined.

Case studies in the report include allegations of forced labour being used to build World Cup 2022 stadiums in Qatar, a marine construction project in the USA, and Brazilian workers at an industrial plant in Angola.

In particular, the report relates to compliance with the recently introduced UK Modern Slavery Act 2015. The UK Home Office estimated in 2014 that there were 10,000–13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK.

More than 20 million people are in forced labour globally, the International Labour Organization estimated in 2012. The Walk Free Foundation’s 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 45.8 million people in modern slavery across the world. In a 2015 report by the European Union, construction ranked second on the list of economic sectors in the EU most prone to labour exploitation. Of the 21 countries that participated in the research, nine put construction at the top of their list.

The fact of the matter is that once working on a building site under a hard hat and hi-vis clothing, a victim becomes perfectly camouflaged and unnoticed by foremen, building specifiers and professionals within the industry. This means that well before shovels hit the ground, responsible checks must be carried out to ensure we are not inadvertently supporting an evil, inhumane trade. Despite the good work carried out by various charitable organizations and governments, the eradication of slavery is impossible without the assistance of big businesses and entire industries.

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