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Modern Slavery in the Construction Industry

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

The construction industry is one of the largest and most important sectors in the world economy, employing millions of people and building the infrastructure and homes we all rely on. However, the construction industry is also one of the industries with the highest risk of modern slavery and forced labour.


Modern slavery is the use of people as property, where individuals are coerced, deceived or forced into work without their consent or with limited freedom of movement. According to the Global Slavery Index, there are currently an estimated 40.3 million people enslaved around the world, with an estimated 16 million people trapped in forced labour in the private sector.

The construction industry is known for its complexity and supply chains, which can be difficult to regulate and monitor. The use of subcontractors and temporary workers, especially in large-scale projects, creates opportunities for unscrupulous employers to exploit workers and engage in modern slavery practices.

One common form of modern slavery in the construction industry is debt bondage, where workers are trapped in a cycle of debt owed to their employer or labour recruiter. This debt can be used as a tool of control, preventing workers from leaving their employment or seeking better conditions. Debt bondage is often used to exploit migrant workers who may have been promised better opportunities but are instead forced to work in poor conditions for low pay. Forced labour can take many forms, including being confined to a worksite, having wages withheld or passports confiscated, and being subject to physical abuse.

The construction industry has a responsibility to prevent and eliminate modern slavery from its supply chains. Companies can take steps to ensure that their suppliers and contractors comply with ethical standards and labour laws, and conduct due diligence on their supply chains to identify and address any risks of modern slavery.

Governments can also play a role in preventing modern slavery in the construction industry by implementing and enforcing laws that protect workers from exploitation and hold employers accountable for any violations of these laws.

In conclusion, modern slavery is a significant issue in the construction industry, with many workers subjected to debt bondage, forced labour, and other forms of exploitation. Addressing this issue will require the cooperation of governments, companies, and civil society to promote ethical and responsible practices in the construction industry and protect the human rights of all workers.

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