Modern Slavery Bill must address forced labour in UK supply chains

Gurjit Degun
18 November 2013

Forced labour in the UK supply chain must be addressed in the upcoming Modern Slavery Bill, according to researchers at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Forced labour’s business models and supply chains, commissioned by charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looks at how businesses make money from forced labour, setting out the “darker side” of the labour supply chains of the construction and food sectors.

It explained that the construction industry is faced with “bogus self-employment engendered by self-regulation, coupled with the volatility of the industry”, which creates conditions for forced labour to emerge.

“Particularly when deadlines loom, construction sites may include workers in regular employment, those working informally – but also, within that element of the workforce, those in a situation of forced labour,” the report said.

It added that the seasonal nature of food can lead to forced labour because there is “heavy demand”.

The research said: “When retailers are forcing down prices and labour providers are already recruiting at or near the national minimum wage, the scope to offer ancillary services that generate additional revenue at employees’ expense may open the door to exploitation and forced labour.”

The study also found forced labour in the supply chains of cannabis growing operations, usually Vietnamese children and adults smuggled into the UK.

The report recommends a multi-stakeholder action plan to “hold intermediaries accountable for the introduction of sub-contracted labour into supply chains,” and “regulate all labour providers involved in the supply of labour at or near the national minimum wage”.

Professor Jean Allain from Queen’s University said: “While the report explores forced labour in three specific sectors, it is an issue right across the UK economy. Forced labour in supply chains of UK businesses is something that policy makers must address and the upcoming Modern Slavery Bill is the ideal opportunity to do so. I hope that today’s report will inform that process.”

Last month, the Home secretary Theresa May launched a consultation to feed into the forthcoming Modern Slavery Bill that the government intends to publish this session for pre-legislative scrutiny.

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