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Modern Slavery – A Real Risk for the Facilities Management Sector

With the UK one of the largest markets for Facilities Management (FM) services in Europe, FM professionals are taking a more proactive approach to identifying, controlling and limiting their risks and applying this more rigorously to the contractors and suppliers they work with.

For the highly competitive and dynamic sector, worth £47.2 billion in the UK and forecast to reach £52 billion in 2026 (ReportLinker), those who want to stay ahead of the game are carefully implementing ethical strategies as a primary focus within their own business and across the supply chain.

One troubling area that needs attention and action if the sector is not to be complicit in allowing it to prosper is modern slavery. Despite the UK abolishing slavery in 1833 and the Modern Slavery Act coming into force in 2015, the stark reality is that slavery has not gone away, and the situation is not improving.

According to the ILO, 50 million people worldwide are trapped in modern slavery, 28 million of which in forced labour and based on data from Anti-Slavery International, the number of people in the UK in modern slavery is totalling more than 130,000.

Based on a sector that has a heavy reliance on migrant workers, and 65% of FM services saying there were still difficulties in sourcing workers (RICS Q4 2022 survey), exposure to exploitation and modern slavery is a very real risk, particularly as the UK is one of the biggest destinations in Europe for trafficking of workers.

Although it may happen inadvertently, like other industries, the FM sector can be implicated in modern slavery both directly and indirectly. This could be through their own operations, their supply chains and their involvement with business partners or the use of temporary workers via third party agencies.

This is why 2023 is set for stricter regulations for organisations to prevent human rights abuses and address governance and transparency obligations in supply chains that includes:

  • German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act – Effective from January 2023
  • The European Commission (EC) For A Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive – passed by the European Parliament in March 2021
  • EU Supply Chain Law
  • UK Procurement Bill

With expectations and pressures on companies to tackle modern slavery increasing, leading organisations are embracing their obligations under the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, and are taking deliberate steps to help prevent abuses by:

  • Gaining greater visibility of modern slavery compliance in the supply chain by having a robust vetting process in place that captures modern slavery policies and reviewing and monitoring them on a regular basis.
  • Promoting greater awareness among their supply chain.
  • Implementing effective standards, codes of conduct and action plans which support the elimination of forced labour in their supply chains.
  • Requiring contractual commitments and other measures from their suppliers that support regular monitoring, auditing and reporting of their labour conditions, with a specific focus on eliminating the potential for trafficking and forced labour within their supply chain.

As Gemma Archibald, Chief Executive Officer, Supply Chain Division at Alcumus says: “The fight against modern slavery is just beginning. As such, businesses need to take action to protect victims and make sure they actively audit, investigate and reduce exploitation, which will go a long way to pushing modern slavery out of legitimate supply chains.”

To achieve this, organisations must start by asking the right questions around human rights and working conditions and review which parts of their supply chain are most at risk and put appropriate protective measures in place, which should include:

  • Developing policies, procedures and communication channels
  • Producing a modern slavery statement
  • Closely managing high-risk suppliers
  • Training employees
  • Checking all tier contractors, suppliers and third party recruitment agencies
  • Accreditation

Even if your organisation or business is not legally obliged to comply with the Modern Slavery Act, a zero-tolerance approach against modern slavery is vital to ensure that exploitation risks don’t go undetected and to prevent slavery happening in the first place.

These alarming practices have no place in the 21st century and where businesses fall short on modern slavery, then the risks they face of non-compliance as well as reputational and financial damage is not something to be complacent about.

Our ‘Preventing Modern Slavery In The Supply Chain’ whitepaper explores these areas in more detail. Download the whitepaper now to explore practical steps to avoid being complicit and to tackle modern slavery, it also includes a handy compliance checklist.

About Sarah OBeirne

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