Be wary of the links between gig economy and modern slavery

21 September 2017

Procurement professionals need to be aware of the links between the poor employment practices linked to the gig economy and modern slavery.

Speaking at a CIPS Fellows event in London, Sue Hurrell, special projects manager at the Welsh Government, said there was a clear link between bad and illegal employment.

“If you’re not certain how people are employed, how can you be certain they are not enslaved?” she asked. “It’s about being aware of and interested in the workers in your supply chain.” 

The gig economy is the term for a labour market characterised by short-term contracts and freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. According to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development 1.3m people work in the gig economy in the UK. 

Hurrell said that procurement professionals, who might have traditionally viewed their role as cutting costs through outsourcing, needed to be aware of unscrupulous employment practices. These include the use of “unfair” umbrella employment schemes, obliging people to become self employed to get work or the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts (such as not paying social care workers on zero-hours contracts for the time spend travelling between appointments).

In March 2017, the Welsh Government launched a Code of Practice on Ethical Employment in Supply Chains. It has 12 commitments that all Welsh public bodies and those supplying them are expected to sign up to. These range from those directly linked to modern slavery, such as training procurement professionals in modern slavery, to ethical employment practices like ensuring blacklisting is not used anywhere in the supply chain.

Hurrell said there was an opportunity for procurement to scrutinise data on employment matters in contract management and link worforce conditions to quality of service.

“People matter, and we shouldn’t be trading them off against other things,” she said.

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