Expert helps businesses spot modern slavery ‘hiding in plain sight’

By Raspberry Jim,

With the number of potential modern slavery victims soaring to over 5,000 last year, a legal expert has urged businesses to recognise the warning signs “hiding in plain sight”.

Phillip Williams, of leading defence solicitors Blackfords LLP, has urged managers and business owners to become more vigilant when dealing with third-party contractors or suppliers.

He warns that companies could be inadvertently enabling the exploitation of victims by failing to recognise the clear warning signs.

Mr Williams, who has extensive experience in defending companies and individuals charged with modern slavery offences, has spoken out after the Crown Prosecution Service revealed it had seen modern slavery prosecutions rise by a quarter between 2017 and 2018.

He warned that this number could continue to increase if businesses were missing vital opportunities to identify exploitation in the workplace.

He said: “Modern slavery is not an isolated issue in big cities, it affects all people at all levels of society. Slavery victims could be your hotel chef, your cleaner, your delivery person, or a contracted worker – so it is an offence which is very much hiding in plain sight.

“Unfortunately, many business owners and managers become embroiled in prosecutions because they are unaware that their suppliers and third-party contractors are enabling the exploitation of workers.

“By recognising the warning signs at an earlier stage, businesses can help put a stop to this alarmingly widespread and detrimental offence once and for all.”

Here Mr Williams offers his expert advice to businesses on the five ways to spot modern slavery hiding in plain sight.

Lack of documentation

Managers who frequently rely on the use of third-party contractors, labourers, or agency workers to complete a project may require documentation.

It is at this stage that the first opportunity to identify a potential victim may arise.

Mr Williams said: “Many modern slavery victims are unlikely to have any personal identification, such as a passport or a driving licence, which in this day and age is particularly unusual.

“Identification is frequently confiscated by those seeking to exploit the victim, in a bid to assert further control over them and prevent them from escaping.

“Managers who are unable to obtain identification from a worker without explanation, or who suspect the provided information is falsified, should investigate their concerns further.”

Unusual travel times

Those who oversee smaller operations and offices will often become familiar with the daily travel routines of their staff.

While it is common for workers to arrive at different times, those who frequently get dropped off extremely early or are picked up late could be under the control of a manipulator.

Mr Williams said: “Obviously not everyone who works late or arrives early should fall under suspicion, but if you already have concerns this could be another factor to consider.

“Often slavery victims are entirely reliant on someone else for their daily needs, such as travel, with an aggressor using this to control the victim.

“As a manager if you have concerns, it may be worth keeping a log, or checking the start times for the individual, to try and establish a pattern.”

Financial details

As mentioned previously, modern slavery victims are unlikely to have any control over their personal identification. This also extends to bank accounts.

Many managers may require a worker to provide them with bank details if they have hired them directly to complete a project.

“Failure to provide bank details, without providing a legitimate reason, is a significant warning sign,” Mr Williams said.

“If the worker seems concerned, stressed, or even fearful about their inability to receive payment in cash, it would be wise to try and ascertain the reasoning behind this. While it could be innocent, equally there could be an underlying and more sinister reason.”

Appearance

Signs of physical abuse, malnourishment, and unusual anxiety are all clear signs that a worker is being exploited.

However a large company, which employs thousands of workers across numerous sites, could easily overlook this.

To prevent this, Mr Williams urged companies to implement a policy of screening every new worker for potential warning signs of modern slavery.

He said: “Directors and CEOs are unlikely to meet every new employee, but in losing that personal approach, we could also miss vital warning signs when using agency or contracted workers.

“Businesses should safeguard themselves against becoming complicit by having at least one designated person to recognise the signs. In doing so they will protect the business, but more importantly the individual, from further exploitation.

“A designated department or member of staff is well positioned to identify signs including poor hygiene, malnourishment, anxious behaviour, or signs of physical abuse, which could end victimisation.”

Lack of interaction

Colleagues frequently form friendships inside and outside of the office. However, a worker who is being victimised is more likely to avoid personal interaction of any kind.

Mr Williams said: “Modern slavery is very much perpetuated by secrecy, and the victim’s inability to ask for help.

“As such they will have been encouraged not to interact with co-workers or reveal any personal details for fear of retribution.

“In a smaller work environment this could become immediately apparent, especially if the worker repeatedly avoids interaction or attempts to speak with colleagues. While you could put this down to shyness, a modern slavery victim will often adamantly isolate themselves at all costs for fear of repercussion.”

Expert advice on fighting corporate manslaughter in the construction sector

By Raspberry Jim,

 

Untitled design

Corporate manslaughter has become a nationwide talking point once again ahead of the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.

One year on from the devastating incident on June 14, 2017, an official inquiry is now underway to determine who was responsible for the harrowing events which claimed the lives of 72 people.

Following the fire last year many were quick to attribute blame to the local council and the tenant management organisation. The Metropolitan Police investigated both the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which owned the tower, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenancy Management Organisation which managed it, on suspicion of corporate manslaughter.

A BBC Panorama investigation claimed that the insulation used in renovations of the tower, from manufacturer Celotex, never actually passed required safety tests. But with the official inquiry into the incident still underway, culpability for the tragedy has yet to be established.

Recent media coverage has generated renewed discussion around corporate manslaughter in the construction industry.

With everyone from housing associations, to electricians involved, the duty of care in this sector is vast – and a failure to follow correct procedures could quickly prove fatal.

But when it comes to construction, when are companies culpable of corporate manslaughter? And what should they do if accused?

Here, director at leading defence firm Blackfords LLP Phillip Williams offers his advice on this divisive matter.

What is corporate manslaughter?

Corporate manslaughter is a criminal offence through which a company or corporation is found to be responsible for a person’s death.

The offence came into law in 2008 when the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into being.

Companies can be found guilty of this offence if their serious management failures led to a gross breach of duty of care.

If found guilty companies could face an unlimited fine of up to £20 million, depending on the severity of the offence, or the court could order them to overhaul their health and safety procedures.

When is a construction company accountable?

As part of the 2007 Act there are specific ways to determine if an incident falls under the offence of corporate manslaughter.

Following a fatality, the business’s internal processes which led up to the death will be examined, including any health and safety procedures, to determine if there were systematic failures which led to negligence.

In the construction industry, the implementation of health and safety procedures is even more vital due to the highly hazardous working conditions and proximity to heavy machinery. As such it is crucial that any safety measures are not just sent out to staff, but followed strictly.

Mr Williams said that in order for a company to be accused of corporate manslaughter, it must be proved that there was a gross breach of procedure, which left workers or members of the public at a significant risk.

“This breach must be major, and be identified as a significant departure from expected standards,” the legal expert added.

In 2015, Master Construction Products became the 26th company to be convicted of corporate manslaughter after a worker was crushed to death by a machine used to sort waste materials.

The company was fined £255,000 and a subsequent HSE investigation uncovered that there was no safe system of work outlined for the machinery.

A significant part of the failure must also have occurred at a senior level, among those with decision-making powers, Mr Williams added. He said: “Construction managers are under extreme pressure to ensure their firm follows procedure and adheres to regulations to prevent any serious incidents on-site.

“And while every care is undoubtedly taken, sometimes things can go wrong. Anyone with concerns that they may be liable under this Act should seek legal representation immediately.”

Not only should site managers safeguard the wellbeing of their workers, but they are also responsible for preventing injury to the public, Mr Williams said.

Monavon Construction Ltd became the first company to be sentenced under the Act, and received a fine of £550,000 after pleading guilty to two counts of corporate manslaughter, when two men suffered fatal injuries after falling into a well in 2013.

As we have witnessed through the official Grenfell Tower Inquiry, this public responsibility also extends to the safety of building materials used in a construction project. A BBC investigation has recently raised questions around whether Celotex had misled buyers about the safety of its product before the installation at Grenfell Tower.

Mr Williams said: “This underlines the importance of obtaining up to date records and documents relating to the safety testing of any product used in a construction build. As managers it is not just vital that you ensure your workers follow procedures, but that your third-party suppliers do too.”

What next if you’re facing a corporate manslaughter charge?

It is likely that an investigation will be undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)  to ascertain blame for the fatality and could also include a criminal prosecution for health and safety offences.

Mr Williams said: “Managers or companies accused of corporate manslaughter could easily become overwhelmed due to the scope of the investigation.

“Once the fatality occurs, there are likely to be investigations into company health and safety procedures, police visits to the site, and interviews with HSE among many other steps. It is imperative that you speak with a fully trained solicitor who is well versed in dealing with corporate manslaughter cases to guide you through this process.

“At Blackfords LLP we have extensive experience of defending clients in some of the most complex corporate manslaughter cases in the UK.”

Mr Williams advises that construction companies and managers could also receive publicity orders, requesting the business to provide details of previous convictions and fines. He said they could also receive a remedial act instructing them to overhaul procedures which resulted in the death.