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Action needed by SMEs to tackle Modern Slavery

01 September 2021

AWARENESS OF the importance of addressing modern slavery is high among construction SMEs, but there is a need to move beyond policy to action according to research carried out by CHAS, in conjunction with the University of Nottingham Rights Lab.

CHAS and the Rights Lab surveyed a sample of 229 CHAS member companies, the majority of whom are SMEs within the construction sector. The survey sought to assess current knowledge and awareness of modern slavery along with actions taken to address this problem and identify opportunities for improving engagement.

Encouragingly, the results showed high awareness of the need to tackle modern slavery, with 72% of respondents confirming they have implemented a modern slavery policy. However, just 39% of those surveyed said they were conducting due diligence to address this issue within their businesses and supply chains and have done so for more than six months. Meanwhile, almost one fifth (17%) of businesses said their organisation has no intention to carry out due diligence in the foreseeable future, and 50% of respondents stated that they currently have no intention to measure KPIs related to modern slavery.

Drivers of anti-slavery action

When it comes to drivers of anti-slavery action, several factors may come into play, including legislative and regulatory, operational and commercial, and reputational drivers to encourage business action. It is possible the vast majority of respondents have a modern slavery policy because of requirements by clients or contracts, particularly by large organisations captured by the modern slavery legislation. However, two thirds (66%) of participants said they do not feel pressure from the government and large businesses to address modern slavery, while 67% stated they do not feel pressure from consumers and other civil society actors to address the issue.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 only requires companies with an annual turnover of £36 million or more to report on steps taken to address the risk. However, CHAS believes that with over 90% of all businesses in the construction sector represented by SMEs, supporting these organisations to manage modern slavery effectively is vital to improving the sector's record on this issue.

To support this goal, CHAS is working with the Rights Lab to establish a range of tools and resources to help construction SMEs take positive action to understand, manage, mitigate and eliminate the risk of modern slavery and labour exploitation in the construction supply chain. CHAS's extensive experience in providing risk management services to clients and customers puts them in a strong position to provide appropriate and scalable solutions to drive change in the construction sector such that more SMEs are encouraged and enabled to take positive action on modern slavery.

A link to the full briefing can be accessed here.