This month, we recall the creation of the UK’s ‘anti-slavery police’; namely the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA). In so doing, we highlight the GLAA’s work last year in tackling modern slavery, particularly in the construction sector.

The GLAA was formerly the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) which was created following the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers disaster in February 2004. The GLA regulated the supply of temporary labour to the farming, food processing, and shellfish gathering sectors. Indeed, there are now nearly 1000 licensed gangmasters in the UK and abroad that supply hundreds of thousands of temporary contracted workers in these sectors.

Following the UK’s enactment of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and then the Immigration Act 2016, the increased focus on efforts to eradicate modern slavery led to a review of, amongst others, the GLA’s limited remit. That review led, following a transition period, to the formation of the GLAA with a much broader sectorial approach in tackling modern slavery.

In April 2017, the GLAA gained additional police-style powers to search and seize evidence in relation to the criminal offences under the Modern Slavery Act; and investigation of offences under the Employment Agencies Acts and the National Minimum Wage, as well as the current Gangmasters Licensing legislation. The Immigration Act 2016 also gave the GLAA new legislative sanctions; namely, Labour Market Enforcement Undertakings and Labour Market Enforcement Orders. Within the first six months of operations, the GLAA reports that it has 150 ongoing investigations, more than 70 of them criminal. The GLAA is now ‘the foremost investigative agency for labour exploitation in the UK’. Its mission is a bold one; namely to ‘prevent, detect and investigate worker exploitation across the entire economy’.

In October 2017, the GLAA launched its Construction Protocol, a new agreement aimed at eradicating modern slavery and labour abuse in the construction sector. The new protocol was launched after the construction sector was identified as one of four sectors at the highest risk of labour exploitation, relying as it does on high numbers of skilled and unskilled workers, from the UK and abroad, to perform labour-intensive projects, often for discrete periods. Endorsed by BRE, CIPS and CIOB, the protocol is a voluntary agreement promoting:

  • sharing information with the GLAA to help stop or prevent the exploitation of workers. The information is treated sensitively by the GLAA;
  • businesses raising awareness within their supply chains and encouraging their suppliers to provide the GLAA with any information indicating that labour exploitation has occurred;
  • the GLAA’s advice, when contacted, to suppliers and contractors;
  • the necessary steps being taken to ensure that exploitation of workers is recognised and addressed.

Signatories to the new protocol already include Carillion, Sir Robert McAlpine, Willmott Dixon, Marshalls, and Morgan Sindall. This follows the creation earlier in 2017 of the Modern Slavery in Construction Coalition, aimed at raising awareness about modern slavery in supply chains. The full protocol can be accessed here.