Protecting people

Written by: Marc Stanton
Published on: 29 Jun 2020

Marc StantonThe FM sector can protect workers from exploitation and modern slavery, says Marc Stanton.

Many organisations rely on outsourced workers to fulfil their FM needs, which begs the question: how well do you know your FM personnel?

Finding a commercial cleaner, for example, often only takes a quick Google search, peer recommendation, or simply looking for high quality at minimum cost, without any insight into ethics or HR practices.

Those in cleaning roles typically have minimal interaction with other employees while they undertake their duties, often working when the premises are empty. Limited English is another challenge as migrant workers are a dominant demographic in cleaning.

These factors contribute to the likelihood of modern slavery victim placement and add to the difficulty of spotting the signs of slavery to accurately identify a victim.

What is modern slavery?

A person is a victim of modern slavery when they become trapped in a life of labour or servitude, where ownership is exercised over a person, or a person is forced to work through deception, coercion or manipulation, without receiving remuneration.

Much like the waste management and construction industries, traffickers target the FM sector to place forced labourers. Modern slavery is a multibillion-pound industry that ranks in the top three most prevalent organised crimes worldwide. Traffickers promise victims a better life and guaranteed earning prospects but imprison them in a hellish existence.

What can be done?

1. Spread the word
Raise awareness so that peers in the industry know about the dangers of modern slavery.

2. Interrogate recruitment and selection processes
FM companies must check the background of potential employees, probing further than legal right to work and identity requirements. Pay close attention to candidates:  

  • Do they look nervous?  
  • Are they accompanied by someone who speaks on their behalf?  
  • How legitimate do their references appear to be, and have they been cross-checked?  
  • Are the address and bank account details they have provided unique, or are there duplicates for other employees within the system?

Rigorous checking processes should be embedded in the culture, and policies put into place, such as only paying wages into an employee’s own bank account in their name.

3. Look for tell-tale signs

Provide training to those in management roles so they are able to identify signs of modern slavery:  

  • dishevelled appearance;  
  • visible injuries or signs of abuse;
  • withdrawn demeanour;  
  • difficulty communicating;  
  • limited understanding of English;  
  • no access to documents;  
  • escorted to and from work;  
  • few possessions; and  
  • inadequate food.

Just having these practices in place could deter traffickers from targeting your organisation and make it less likely for a slavery victim to slip through the net undetected.

4. Set up safe remediation protocol

Provide confidential reporting protocol for anyone wishing to flag a potential victim. Training in safe reporting should be implemented to ensure that potential victims are not unintentionally endangered further.

5. Update policies

Traffickers are innovative and cunning, keeping ahead of policies and legislation to exploit any weaknesses or loopholes. The recommendations made in this article only scratch the surface of slavery prevention strategy – there’s a whole host of steps that need to be taken to ensure that your organisation is impenetrable to human traffickers.

Your business’s anti-slavery measures must be carefully compiled and tailored to the intricacies of your operations, expertly crafted to afford the utmost protection against exploitation.

By choosing a consultant organisations can access quality advice on:

  • remediation;  
  • site assessments;  
  • gap analysis;  
  • crisis response;  
  • proactive investigation;  
  • bespoke training; and  
  • online resources and peer-to-peer learning events.

Slave-Free Alliance is part of parent charity Hope for Justice, which employs specialists in rescuing and rehabilitating victims. It contributes to the fight against modern slavery and reinvests all proceeds into Hope for Justice’s charitable activities. 

Marc Stanton is director at non-profit organisation Slave-Free alliance