The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner recently published a report: Operation Cardinas and Beyond, which explores the risk of tradespeople being exploited in the construction sector. The findings of the paper indicate that construction workers are still at risk of being exploited for their labour in 2022.
The skills gap, security lapses, and manipulation of visa routes were named as some of the key drivers for labour exploitation in the construction industry.
According to the report, those particularly susceptible to labour exploitation are tradespeople who are supplied by agencies. Victims of labour exploitation in the construction industry can experience deception in working agreements, debt bondage, unfair pay deductions, and more.
How did they find this out?
The report looks at case studies where “criminality infiltrates legitimate business supply chains” to find out how tradespeople can be made vulnerable to labour exploitation and even modern slavery.
In addition, the report examines how contractors and industry bodies are currently managing the threat of labour exploitation against the construction industry workforce before deciding upon best practices to prevent modern slavery in the trade.
What kind of case studies?
A primary case study of the report was ‘Operation Cardinas’. This refers to the crime perpetrated by the Lupu family and the Romanian organised criminal group ‘OCG’ to place approximately 500 tradespeople, who were victims of labour exploitation, onto “major commercial and residential projects across London and the southeast” between 2009 and 2018:
“The Metropolitan Police identified at least 33 companies, including contractors, agencies, and umbrella firm payroll providers, that had unwittingly been paying into accounts controlled by the OCG.”
The report sets out to understand the tactics behind the goings-on in Operation Cardinas and how the incident was responded to by all parties so that industry bodies and contractors can learn how to better protect victims – and potential victims – of modern slavery in the construction industry.
What’s being done about exploitation?
The ‘evolving best practices’ section of the report includes examples of some of the measures that construction businesses are taking to address the risk of labour exploitation. These measures include:
- Directly employing tradespeople (instead of through agencies)
- Creating internal working groups to strengthen responses
- Setting up helplines and encouraging people to report concerns
- Implementing anti-slavery education and training internally and with suppliers
- Establishing prequalification processes with suppliers
- Streamlining labour agency relationships to reduce exposure to risk, and;
- Implementing ethical management systems
The Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB) responded to the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s report shortly after its publication. By urging all professionals in construction to read the report, the CIOB hope everyone will understand the lessons in the “evolving best practice” section, and take action. (Read the full response here).