Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

It is people who will rescue people from modern slavery

Tuesday, 15 May 2018 15:26 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Many great organisations are working all over the world to build processes to eradicate this heinous crime from our planet

In the past few years in particular we have noticed an awakening in society and industry to the harsh realisation that modern day slavery is real and affects people from all nations and in many businesses and supply chains. It is estimated that over 40 million people are trapped in some sort of modern slavery around the world; the real figures may be even higher than this. Many great organisations are working all over the world to build systems of assurance and processes to eradicate this heinous crime from our planet.

The construction industry has been referenced a number of times as a sector that is at higher risk of modern slavery and is often mentioned in the same context as agriculture, nail bars and car washes. With global supply chains and, in some cases opaque sub-contracting processes where tiers of companies can considerably distort the true picture, it is likely that criminal gangs can infiltrate real projects today. There are of course notable exceptions to the general trend but there remains a significant opportunity to engage and upskill the supply chain and companies themselves on the real-world challenges and risks they face.

Collaboration is key if we are to make a significant impact on this agenda. Companies large and small and from different parts of the value chain need to recognise that their sphere of influence is actually nested within a sphere of responsibility. Many architects do not procure materials of services directly for a project nor engineers for that matter but both (and others) have a responsibility to make due considerations about the consequences of their choices. The world is increasingly non-binary and it is not about trying to prove the absolute negative when it comes to modern slavery; instead it is about a commitment to continuous improvement.

Networks and professional bodies have a significant role to play; they have codes of practice and standards for individuals who achieve ‘chartered’ or ‘registered’ status. Ongoing CPD records ensure these professionals are up to date on current thinking and knowledge in their respective areas of specialism. When you look at such professional bodies they can span a number of sectors; for instance, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) has more than 14,000 members worldwide in over 100 countries, working in the construction, automotive and engineering sectors. Of particular note the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has already built in modern slavery aspects into their professional code of practice; others will follow suit I am sure.

We started to build this coalition of engaged professional bodies – including CIOB, CIPS, IEMA, RICS, RIBA and others – two years ago to really build the collaboration rather than to get stuck in the details of how many e-learning modules one professional body had against another; or if one was better than another. There was a real willingness to engage and move above the details to demonstrate a collective will to eradicate modern slavery. With this collective intent, we created a coalition and then worked with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to further promote and develop a common approach to working with the government agency via a Protocol which was launched in 2017.

We are now looking to broader our horizon beyond construction. The victims of these crimes are not fixed to a single sector and in some cases people are trafficked from one sector to another. The challenges of identification also vary in different sectors. For example, the modelling sector is now looking at how to protect vulnerable young people in particular who may have been lured into the promise of a glamourous life, or equally young talented boys and girls sold a dream of professional football and given a living nightmare of exploitation.

Individuals are often the change agents in business and organisations; those who are personally motivated to raise the awareness of the issues and are willing to shine a light on the plights of others. It is therefore important to recognise those who are doing more than others. In May 2018, we identified the Top 100 influencers as an unranked constituency, enabling motivated individuals to further promote the issues relating to modern slavery.

Playing to people’s strengths is a great belief of mine; systems and processes need people to deliver the changes we so desperately need to create a systemic shift not only in business practices but in social awareness and consciousness.

It is people who will rescue people.

Shamir Ghumra is BREEAM Director at the Building Research Establishment (BRE). He co-created the Construction Industry Coalition on Modern Slavery and was the chair prior to the establishment of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority Construction Forum.