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How easy is it to get slave labour in the UK?

a silhouette of a construction worker being supervised taken from our modern slavery awareness course

It is hard to believe that in 2020, slavery still exists in the UK today. Modern Slavery is a real problem and those caught up in it are often subject to exploitation through working incredibly long hours with no breaks, receiving pay below the minimum wage or no pay at all, working in dangerous conditions and often employed against their will. Vulnerable individuals are targeted who may be unemployed, homeless or migrants who simply don’t understand their employment rights in the UK.  

The Home Office estimates there are 13,000 people in slavery in the UK.  However it is thought that this number could be even higher than reported. The Guardian revealed more than a tenfold increase in the number of victims associated with modern slavery and human trafficking in London. Evidence shows that modern slavery is on the rise in London, with the Metropolitan Police reporting far more referrals for victims of slavery today than in previous years.

It’s clear that London needs to have a more coherent strategy to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. The rise of modern slavery cases in London over the last five years shows that action is needed now.

Unmesh Desai (Assembly Member), London Assembly Police & Crime Committee

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 & the reality of slave labour

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidates previous offences relating to trafficking and slavery, as well as directs accountability to organisations for slavery occuring anywhere in their chain of operations. In some industries labour is outsourced with many staff being temporary or contracted for a specific job. These extra layers of supplying labour mean that an organisation may not actually know where their labour is coming from. With this in mind the Slavery Act 2015 aims to create greater transparency and awareness to tackle modern slavery.

However, with modern slavery still rife, despite government legislation to combat it, just how easy is it to get slave labour in the UK?

Zak Garner-Purkis wrote a compelling article outlining how he bought slave labour in London. As a collaboration between BBC Three and Construction News this undercover investigation found that it is alarmingly easy to find slave labour in the capital. They posed as builders looking for cheap labour and were offered reliable workers at £4.50 an hour at shifts of 15 hours a day, 7 days a week with no breaks. Negotiations were carried out with the gangmaster through a means of a translator to ensure a discussion could be had to achieve slave labour for construction purposes.

A main part of the operation was to seek out the person who supplies labour, not those after a job. Known as the fixer, it is this person that can arrange the labour and agree to the terms requested. There are guarantees offered that the workers will not leave the site and not ask questions. Focusing on elements of modern day slavery and applying it to the ficticious job in the investigation, proves that it is possible to ‘buy’ slave labour. 

The truth is that modern slavery hides in plain sight not because we ignore it, but because we financially support it.

Zak Garner-Purkis, How I ‘bought’ slave labour in London: An undercover investigation

Examples of slave labour can be found in many industries, including construction, hospitality and agriculture. In an industry such as construction, where labour is in demand and costs need to be low, conditions exist for workers to be exploited. A role can be played by the government, organisations and individuals in not supporting modern slavery but more must be done. 

More about Modern Day Slavery…

If you are interested in reading more about modern slavery you can access our following blogs:

Modern Slavery in the Hospitality Industry
Modern Slavery in the Construction Industry
Modern Slavery: Maggie’s story and the power of training

Here at iHASCO we genuinely want to make a difference. Empowering organisations to recognise and understand the signs of modern day slavery might not eradicate it entirely, but raising awareness is a vital step. You can try our Modern Slavery Awareness Training for free below.

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