Modern slavery risks in logistics, warehouses and transportation

Where are the biggest risks of modern slavery in the logistics, warehouse and transportation sectors, and how can workers be made more aware of them?

For many, the risks of modern slavery in logistics centre around the idea of people found in the back of lorries.

Although this type of activity can result in people being victims of modern slavery, it is only one small aspect.

The risks that modern slavery cases pose not only have dire consequences for workers but can also have a significant impact on any businesses involved.

So, where are the biggest risks of modern slavery in the logistics, warehouse and transportation sectors, and how can people be made more aware them?

Demand for labour

The significant demand for labour currently seen within the logistics industry is making it a high-risk environment for modern slavery.

There has been a consistent increase in online shopping in recent years, creating a need for more workers in the logistics, warehouse distribution, and transportation sectors— a need that often cannot be fully met.

As labour shortages take hold, the risk of modern slavery increases because businesses take short cuts to secure the temporary labour they need.

Although the need for workers has increased, the number of workers able to fill these roles has decreased. Brexit has created at least some of these labour shortages, reducing the amount of migrant workers available – staff that many companies have historically been reliant on.

This desperate need for labour is making the industry vulnerable to unethical recruitment practices, not necessarily intentionally, but through sometimes hurried and superficial approaches.

Transient workforce

Any sector with a prevalence of temporary labour is more prone to modern slavery and worker exploitation. Logistics is just one of those sectors.

When people come to a business as a temporary employee, there’s often a third party involved – usually a recruitment agency. This is where the lines can blur, as it’s common for illegitimate or rogue recruitment agencies to provide staff into these sectors – staff that are being exploited by these parties or individuals.

Whenever a third party is involved, there is an increased risk of modern slavery. This is because businesses can’t always be sure whether the agencies or suppliers they are working with are meeting their compliance obligations, and mitigating the risks of worker exploitation. It’s also hard to keep on top of who they are working with too, which then extends the network of risk.

Businesses that use a lot of temporary labour should be extra vigilant about their workforce in order to avoid these risks.

Not exercising due diligence

There is a real pressure on industries, such as logistics, to meet demand. Businesses need to have the right workforce and getting those workers – at whatever cost – can sometimes take priority over conducting appropriate checks.

This can mean that due diligence is not given the priority it needs. If you are not undertaking appropriate due diligence, then you put not only your company at risk. It can also have implications for those who are working in your supply chain, particularly those who are perhaps even two or three steps removed from your decision-making processes.

Seasonal demands

The logistics industry is often drastically affected by seasonal demands. Using the Christmas period as a prime example, labour is required quickly and in large doses, but only for a short period.

This demand for temporary labour increases the pressure to recruit workers quickly – so businesses can continue to operate.

When businesses are desperate for labour and when these needs can’t be met, usual recruitment protocols might be neglected. Workers may be recruited via rogue umbrella agencies or bogus third parties, and the necessary checks may not be made to confirm a person’s identity or right to work. This increases the risk to the worker and your business.

Long supply chains

Logistics has, by nature, very long and complex supply chains, with plenty of employment opportunities, but a higher risk of worker exploitation. The more people a business works with, the more difficult it becomes to keep on top of everyone’s working practices. In logistics especially, labour spreads both nationally and internationally, and is a complex web of relationships and interactions.

The focus can no longer be on internal labour standards alone, but on what your suppliers and their suppliers are doing.

Not having a clear reporting and escalation policy

Having a clear reporting and escalation policy in place is important.

It’s vital for everyone working in the business to know about the policy and what they can do if they have concerns about themselves or someone else.

This will ensure that everyone has an understanding of what to do and where to go if potential issues do arise. Do you have someone in the business who is responsible for dealing with this kind of issue? Do you have processes in place to make sure you know what to do if something concerning is spotted?

These are the questions you must ask. When the right procedures are in place, any potential cases of modern slavery can be dealt with appropriately. You can seek help to remediate the situation, learn from what has happened, and take action to prevent it from happening in the future.

Need help combatting the risks?

There’s a lot of risk within the logistics, transportation, and warehouse distribution sectors. These problems are not easy to solve, but with the right help, your business can become better at identifying, preventing, and reducing them.

If your company needs help with reporting and escalation policies, worker training and engagement, or developing its modern slavery statement, Unseen Business can help. We offer expert advice, guidance and support, drawing on real life cases studies we see through the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline.

Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you.

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.