Construction leads on SOS hand signal for modern slavery victims

Victims of modern slavery will be able to get help discreetly with the aid of a new SOS hand signal.

The signal, launched by business-led anti-modern-slavery initiative Stronger Together, with the help of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and (CITB), consists of three simple gestures in sequence: the victim who wants to draw attention to their situation holds their hand with the palm out, tucks their thumb in, and then traps their thumb.

The simple, universal signal aims to help victims who are often hidden in plain sight and who are often unable to communicate easily either because they are under threat or intimidation or may not speak English as a common language.

Construction has been identified as high-risk for modern slavery by various bodies, including the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), and the sector is increasingly taking measures to prevent this most extreme form of labour exploitation, while identifying and supporting victims. 

The Hand SOS signal was originally launched by the Canadian Women’s Foundation as a simple, one-handed sign that someone can use silently to indicate they need help and want someone to check in with them in a safe way.

Supported by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), CITB and the GLAA, Stronger Together is launching this signal today (Monday 18 October 2021), on Anti-Slavery Day, for victims who are seeking help.

A range of free resources is available from the Stronger Together website to support the SOS signal, including:

  • A downloadable poster to place around the workplace;
  • A simple toolbox talk to raise awareness of modern slavery;
  • A multi-language video and slides for inclusion in onsite induction.

Pamela Zielinski, construction programme manager at Stronger Together, 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.”

Caroline Gumble, CIOB chief executive, 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.”

Kay Barnes, corporate social responsibility manager at CITB, added: “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.”

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  1. Simple and effective,
    We now need everyone visiting sites to be alert and act on what they see.

  2. What other social services would you like construction managers to undertake instead of the building process, it’s getting ridiculous!

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