UK businesses are running the risk of employing forced labour because they do not know enough about their staff, researchers have warned. Firms are realising that often they do not fully trace the backgrounds of workers, a study by a leading university has found. It means their checks are not “fit for purpose” to uncover modern slavery, according to the researchers.

The government said further changes for businesses might be needed. Home Office Minister Sarah Newton said the government was “considering what further steps may be necessary” to ensure all large businesses report properly and take effective action on forced labour. It comes after a warning last month that modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK was “far more prevalent than previously thought”. Prof Andrew Crane of the University of Bath, the report’s lead author, said: “Companies have little hope of detecting modern slavery practices unless they adopt a new approach that focuses specifically on their labour supply chains.”

Labour supply chains can make forced labour “seemingly invisible even when the workers subjected to them are right in front of us” in farms, factories and construction sites. The use of outsourcing, subcontracting and temporary workers makes it harder to spot victims of slave labour, the report suggests. Workers facing highly exploitative practices by third party agents may be forced to work for little or no pay, have their passports withheld or tricked into racking up large debts.

Verisio has been helping our clients’ address these challenges using Optimus (our cloud-based compliance management software system) and through regular unannounced site visits by our specialised ethical auditors. Last year we performed over 1500 audits mainly around the United Kingdom, on behalf of large audit firms and their clients.

Slavery checks at UK firms not fit for purpose