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Wed December 01 2021

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Introducing the SOS hand signal for exploited workers

18 Oct Secret handshakes have long been a feature of the British construction industry but now there is a special wave you ought to know about.

The Hand SOS signal
The Hand SOS signal

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) are backing a new hand signal that exploited workers can use when they are unable to speak out.

The SOS hand signal has been launched on Anti-Slavery Day (18th October) by the Stronger Together campaign group with industry support to help empower victims of modern slavery to get help.

It is the same signal devised for earlier this year for domestic abuse victims to use to ask for help – open palm, flex thumb and close fingers over thumb.

 Construction has been identified as high-risk for modern slavery by various bodies, including the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority. But detecting victims, who are often ‘hidden in plain sight’, is a particular challenge as victims are often unable to communicate easily, either out of fear or because they don’t speak English. It is important therefore that victims have a non-verbal signal to solicit help discretely without raising suspicion. This is a particular challenge faced on construction sites, but is shared across many other workplaces.

The sponsors of Stronger Together’s Construction Programme set out to develop a simple and universal signal that could be used by victims on construction sites and other workplaces. The SOS signal was selected after focus groups.

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Pamela Zielinski, Stronger Together’s construction programme manager, said: “Imagine the unimaginable; you have been targeted and are now controlled by individuals who place little or no value on human life other than as a means to make money. You cannot voice the trauma and fear you experience on a daily basis perhaps because you can’t speak the language or simply because you fear being overheard by the wrong people. This hand signal may be your only chance.”

CIOB chief executive Caroline Gumble said: “CIOB’s work to raise awareness of modern slavery in construction and how it can be tackled started some years ago and continues with our support for this campaign. In the post-Brexit and post-pandemic period, there are many in construction with concerns that modern slavery may be on the increase so anything that might provide a route to support or safety for victims is to be welcomed. It’s also a useful opportunity to remind industry professionals of their role in helping to combat the problem and the signs of modern slavery to look out for.”

CITB corporate social responsibility manager Kay Barnes said: “We are pleased to support the launch of this hand signal, which is a simple new tool to help raise awareness of modern slavery and empower those affected by it. We know from our own fraud investigations that modern slavery exists within construction, and we all need to work together to stamp it out.

“We would encourage everyone to read and share the free Stronger Together resources on their website and play their part in tackling this issue.”

Sponsors of the Stronger Together construction programme are: Multiplex, Saint-Gobain, Sky, Unibail Rodamco Westfield, Willmott Dixon, St Modwen and Wolseley.

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