Professor Dave EdwardsProfessor David J. Edwards, Head of Research Birmingham City Business School

The recent media hysteria surrounding blacklisting in the UK construction industry, as reported by the BBC, has evoked a resounding silence amongst many practitioners because this widespread clandestine practice is nothing neither new, nor restricted, to the construction sector.

Surprised? Well, the moral rights and wrongs of this issue are not straight forward and key questions should not just be whether blacklisting occurs but whether such is in the public’s best interest and if the information is freely accessible. There are many common examples of both explicit and implicit listing, and whether these are viewed from a positive or negative perspective is not always clear-cut and often a matter of personal judgement.

Media repeatedly banquet upon horrendous stories of incompetent, illegal or rogue cowboy builders, whilst the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regularly publish news bulletins on those who breach relevant safety legislation and are either fined or even imprisoned. Such explicit naming may seem negative as reputations are inevitably damaged (often irreparably) but this is rightly so in many instances – the public should be warned of inept or illegal organisations, companies and individuals.

Conversely, an increasing number of websites are proactively recommending reputable builders, and some professional bodies are claiming to represent only the finest of tradesmen within their associations. To be listed, annual subscription fees must be paid but many companies (who are equally credible and competent) are not part of such professional bodies and lose this benefit of third party recognition. Lists are inevitably compiled and are often freely available on the world wide web – but is this not a more implicit form of discrimination against those not on the lists?

Perhaps these are overly simplistic examples and ultimately, the prevailing government’s moral compass will define and delineate the boundaries between lists that are arguably for society’s greater good and benefit and those that have more sinister ramifications?

Blacklist cases cited by the BBC include reference to Union membership and other undisclosed information. Such instances are wholly unacceptable, but these are recessionary times and organisations are under significant pressure to drive down all costs purely to ensure business survival (let alone generate a profit). Business behaviour has inevitably toughened due to the economic hardship and a narrowing of moral perspectives will most likely continue until the systemic recessionary problem is resolved – another inquiry may simply confirm what most already know.

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Chris Davies

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