Home Office publishes figures showing there were more than 50 victims of modern slavery working in construction last year

Construction worker

The construction industry has been asked to increase its efforts to identify and tackle modern slavery after the government released figures showing 53 victims of the practice were found to be working in the industry last year, with the real number likely to be much higher.

The government has launched a campaign to raise awareness about modern slavery, following the publication of the ground-breaking Modern Slavery Bill in the summer, and is seeking to encourage industries to spot the signs of human trafficking, forced labour, servitude and modern slavery.

This week the Home Office said that in 2013 53 potential victims of trafficking that were referred to the authorities were working in the construction industry.

But the Home Office said “slavery’s hidden nature means actual numbers are likely to be much higher”: “While it may be unlikely large companies are directly employing trafficked people, contractors and subcontractors or the agencies supplying labour could find themselves targeted by unscrupulous gangmasters who may be offering a ready supply of labour at knocked down rates.”

The Home Office said that while anyone could become a victim of modern slavery, victims of the crime in the construction industry were often Eastern European men who are promised a job in the UK and then forced by traffickers to work as labourers for little or no money.

“Through threat, violence or coercion they may be forced to live in squalid accommodation and have their identity documents taken from them,” the Home Office said, adding that victims were often nationals of Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland or Romania.

“All employers in the construction industry should make proper background checks on the agencies who supply them labor, including where the agency is operating in a supervisory role,” the Home Office said.

The Modern Slavery Bill was the first of its kind in Europe, and one of the first in the world, to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century.

It will give law enforcement the tools they need to target today’s slave drivers and ensure perpetrators are severely punished, as well as improving support and protection for victims.