Home Office clampdown on construction industry-illegal working and modern slavery - DAC Beachcroft

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Home Office clampdown on construction industry-illegal working and modern slavery

Published On: 1 December 2015

The Modern Slavery Act (the "Act"), which came into effect in October 2015, is aimed at tackling the global problem of slavery and human trafficking. It requires certain commercial organisations to prepare and publish a 'slavery and human trafficking' statement ("SHT Statement") each financial year.

Why is this relevant to you?

In 2013, 53 workers in the construction industry were identified as possible victims of modern slavery. 

The complex nature of construction industry supply chains, which can involve a number of contractors, consultants and large teams of workers in the UK and abroad, mean that it is possible that incidents of modern slavery are in fact much higher, and that incidents of modern slavery and illegal working may be taking place unwittingly. The sheer number of people involved in construction projects may make it more difficult to police these issues. 

Your industry is already under scrutiny. The Home Office recently launched a campaign to crack down on businesses employing illegal workers, and we are aware of an increasing number of unannounced visits to construction sites by Home Office Enforcement Officers seeking to identify any illegal workers working on site. It is vital that you consider your obligations under the Act and take steps to comply. 

The Act empowers the Secretary of State to enforce the duty to produce a SHT Statement via injunctive proceedings in the High Court against those organisations failing to comply. Of greater concern, however, are the indirect implications for construction organisations which fail to publish the required SHT Statement, or which publish a SHT statement indicating that no action has been taken to minimise the incidence of modern slavery in its business or supply chain. These include:

  • Adverse publicity: Which is likely to have a negative impact on the reputation of the particular construction business involved and on the industry generally;
  • Possible suspension/cessation of works: Construction projects could be suspended causing inconvenience, corresponding delay and associated increase in costs and financial penalties. In the worst case, the project might be closed down;
  • Adverse inferences may be drawn by Tribunal's in the event of either non-compliance with the requirement, or a statement indicating no action has been taken to prevent modern slavery;
  • Fines of up to £20,000 in respect of any illegal workers found in the business.
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