The door-to-door slave trade

In the UK, we tend to think of worker exploitation as something that happens somewhere else. A string of reports have revealed appalling conditions on construction sites across the Gulf states, most recently on the World Cup 2022 venues in Qatar, but there is ample evidence of thousands of forced workers much closer to home, often right under our noses.

Construction has been repeatedly highlighted as an industry where demand for casual workers and opaque supply chains are a gift to unscrupulous gangmasters. It’s not only among door-to-door hawkers like the Connors family, who picked up vulnerable men from the streets and forced them to work long, back-breaking days while they lived in luxury. Forced labourers have been found on some of London’s most prestigious sites, run by major national firms, according to the head of the Metropolitan Police’s human trafficking unit.

As the government prepared to launch the Modern-day Slavery Bill, I investigated the scale of the problem for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I asked what property professionals can do to uncover and prevent abuse, how they can make sure that their own “value engineering” doesn’t result in mistreatment further down the chain – and how the government’s declarations of intent on modern-day slavery square with cutting red tape and funding for the body established to prevent it.