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Interserve slavery revelation prompts internal probe

Interserve chief executive Debbie White was unaware of the “failings of a third party” when she told the public accounts committee (PAC) in June 2018 that the tier one contractor had “not found any instances” of modern slavery in its supply chain.

But a Construction News investigation carried out over the past year has revealed that three months before Ms White gave her testimony, a man who supplied workers to a project of Interserve subsidiary Paragon had been sentenced to seven years in prison for modern slavery offences.

As a result of CN’s work, Interserve has launched a “top-to-tail” internal review of its subcontractors.

Ms White was asked about Interserve’s supply chain during her evidence at the PAC strategic suppliers inquiry where she appeared alongside G4S CEO Paul Neden.

“We have not found any instances of modern slavery anywhere in our business,” she told MPs. “All our subcontractors are vetted by our procurement team, and it is a very rigorous vetting process.”

CN can reveal that a man convicted in March 2018 committed slavery offences while supplying workers to a project run by Paragon.

Victims of David Lupu, a 29-year-old Romanian national, worked as demolition labourers at a hotel refurbishment in August 2017.

Mr Lupu deceived labour agency Number8 Group to gain access to the job.

Number8 co-operated fully with the successful prosecution of Mr Lupu and has instituted several changes to its processes as a result.

An Interserve spokesman confirmed that the business would be investigating the circumstances surrounding the Lupu case.

“At the time of the public accounts committee hearing, the failings of the third party were not known to Interserve’s CEO Debbie White,” he said.

“However, under the instructions of Ms White, Interserve has initiated a top-to-tail review of all subcontractors to ensure the rigorous implementation of its modern slavery policy across the business.

“Our suppliers and subcontractors are expected to comply with our business practices and ethical supply policies, and we were disappointed this was not the case on this occasion.”

The contractor’s spokesman said in reference to this specific case that its primary subcontractor had “taken the decision to subcontract certain services to a third party, who did not adhere to [its] strict modern slavery policy”.

He added: “Interserve takes cases like this very seriously and this matter is being thoroughly investigated.”

The UK’s fifth-largest contractor is not alone in lacking awareness of modern slavery within its supply chain. For the past year, CN has been investigating the presence of modern slavery in UK construction and the lax practices that allow it to occur.

Focusing only on successfully prosecuted cases, CN found victims on big projects with well-known contractors.

Last year, our investigation showed the scale of exploitation of undocumented workers in the industry, many of them Romanian.

Speaking to CN about the scale of the issue in construction, the Metropolitan Police’s modern slavery task force said there had been a significant increase in allegations of labour exploitation and modern slavery.

Anyone with information about potential victims of modern slavery can call their local police force on 101 or the Modern Slavery Helpline: 08000 121 700.

Construction News’s in-depth investigative report on modern slavery within the supply chain will be published in full on Monday.

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