Despite over 80,000 organisations worldwide employing Modern Slavery Act Statements, not everyone seems ready
Construction has been named as one of the three target sectors in the UK’s battle against modern slavery. Together with hospitality and agriculture, we are in the firing line. So what can construction firms do? Should they be worried? Well, yes, and especially as there are currently over 5,000 organisations turning over more than £36m not complying with the Modern Slavery Act.
This piece of legislation was a game-changer; waking up the big boardrooms of Britain to the fact that if their supply-chains were not squeaky clean, they could be in severe trouble. The problem was of course, that they probably had no idea what was going on down in the murky depths of their supply chains, spanning thousands of suppliers, hundreds of sites, in dozens of countries.
When I established the Action Programme for Responsible and Ethical Sourcing (APRES) in 2010, the focus was on products and materials, but this later broadened to include labour, and when APRES issued its manifesto for ethical sourcing in 2015, there was a positive reaction from clients and major contractors.
It’s easy for smaller businesses to assume that ethical sourcing is just an issue for the majors
Through consultation we identified 10 pledges – which we felt best captured the essence of ethical sourcing – to act as a provocation to businesses to discuss and engage with the subject. We hadn’t designed it to be implemented in anger, but that’s exactly what companies wanted to do. That success spurred the idea that a practical, business-focused approach was needed, to help companies move beyond strategic intention into concrete action and change.
Resources to support businesses have been available for some time. BRE has a standard for responsible sourcing of products (BES 6001), which has been around since 2009, and last year it added a scheme for developing organisational competence on ethical sourcing of labour (BES 6002/The Ethical Labour Standard), in direct response to the Modern Slavery Act (MSA). CIRIA have also recently published a major publication on the subject, backed by more than 25 major players in the sector.
Despite over 80,000 organisations worldwide employing Modern Slavery Act Statements, not everyone seems ready. In recent times, the APRES network has been hearing about businesses who are simply struggling to know where to start. It seems that unless you’ve got the right people with the right know-how in your business, then despite the resources, it can be tricky to work out how what to do. Also, with the threshold for the MSA sitting at £36m turnover, it’s easy for smaller businesses to assume that ethical sourcing is just an issue for the majors. There are problems of confusion and complacency in big firms too – with reports of the topic falling between stools (with the various stools in this case being corporate functions such as HR, legal, and procurement, as well as myriad on-site personnel).
There’s now no excuse - it’s time for the construction industry to turn pledges into pathways
In response, BRE and Loughborough University have released the APRES Eight Pathways model based on insights from a range of leading businesses across construction and property. This is all about getting back to basics and providing simple prompts for organisations, whatever stage they are at. The pathways span all basic aspects of a firm’s operations – such as boardroom decision making, finance, HR, communications – as well as the more obvious areas like procurement and supply-chain management. Set out in a consistent ‘plan, do, check, act’ format, each pathway suggests steps that can take a firm from baseline to best practice.
Think about a tier 2/3 supplier who has just found out they’ve not won a tender, and the feedback criticises them for not having a convincing story about how they are trying to tackle modern slavery and embed ethical sourcing in their business. What should they do? How should they pull their story together? And how do they make it a coherent story then can tell time and time again?
The eight pathways provide a robust, but sufficiently flexible structure for the firm to act and so improve their situation for the future. There’s now no excuse - it’s time for the construction industry to turn pledges into pathways.
More information on the Eight Pathways model can be found at apres.bre.co.uk