Modern Slavery in the Construction Industry

Ask the average person about slavery and they will probably think you’re talking about history. Even if they are aware of modern slavery they might assume that it doesn’t really happen in the UK – and certainly not where they live.
Sadly, the reality is different. It affects all areas and many parts of the economy. Construction has been identified as a vulnerable sector. Cases of forced labour, involving particularly eastern Europeans have already come to light and it’s likely that many more are undiscovered.

Nobody knows the exact number of people affected in the UK. Numbers could be as high as 20,000. These are desperate and vulnerable people, forced into unpayable debts and trafficked, often thousands of miles, with the false promise of a better life.

They end up living in cramped, squalid conditions, with little food;  forced to work long hours for virtually no money and too scared to speak out. Based on cases reported to the police, the numbers seem to be increasing. Slavery a thing of the past? Definitely not!

Modern Slavery in Construction

The construction sector is taking steps to take on board the learning and support needed to tackle the issue. Osborne recently attended the House of Lords to support the launch of an initiative, Tackling Modern Slavery: Stronger together, Construction Sector.  This launch was sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Building to learn from sectors with more direct experience such as manufacturing, and consumer goods.

As a caring and committed employer our modern slavery policy states our aim to fight all forms of modern slavery and forced labour. We also produce an annual statement which confirms our continued support and commitment.

While no major contractor would knowingly support modern slavery, the construction sector needs to take particular care with the supply chain. Globally, there could be 50 million people living in slavery and every responsible business should do everything possible to ensure they do not support this abuse through their supply chain. This Home Office Guide has helpful information about the steps to take.

How can you help?

Simple actions and vigilance can make a big difference. Look for signs of:

  • Individuals who do not have access to their own identity documents.
  • Wages being taken at source by a third party to pay for food, rent, debts etc.
  • Workers who look malnourished, unkempt, or appear withdrawn.
  • People who appear frightened or unable to answer questions directed at them.

If you think you work with someone who may be a victim of Modern Slavery or forced labour you can call a helpline on 0800 0121 700 and talk through your concerns, or visit

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