What is Modern Slavery?

In the UK, Modern slavery is the term used to describe any form of slavery under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the “Act”). This captures slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking. Modern slavery can occur anywhere in the world, and it is a dangerous growing issue that impacts millions of lives daily. It is the responsibility of organisations to ensure that they are taking steps to combat modern slavery, and in doing so bringing a stop to this heartless crime.

Under s.54 of the Act, any commercial organisation that supplies goods or services and has a minimum turnover of £36 million per year, and public bodies with a budget of £36 million, must produce and publish a modern slavery statement at the end of each financial year-end.

Modern slavery can come in many different forms, and usually, the sector of the commercial organisation is relevant. For instance, fashion companies will need to focus on their ability to prevent modern slavery in the production of their clothes and the transport of the end-product. However, there are many more types of modern slavery in commercial organisations and this could be seen in the form of paying an employee’s salary into someone else’s bank account (forced servitude). Caterers and security can also have slavery and exploitation issues and need to review their supply chain fully – modern slavery can occur in a multitude of different forms.

Why We Need Modern Slavery Transparency Statements?

Modern slavery statements (“MSS”) encourage transparency within an organisation. They help encourage and prevent slavery from occurring in the workplace.

  • Under the Act, the MSS should include:
    The organisation and supply chain structure
  • The policies on modern slavery and human trafficking
  • The due diligence process regarding slavery and human trafficking
  • Risk assessments of the parts of the business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place
  • The organisation’s effectiveness at ensuring slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in the business and supply chain
  • The training arranged for the workforce to raise awareness of slavery and human trafficking

These requirements exist so that organisations take steps and actions to prevent modern slavery. By adding an MSS to a website and being able to provide anyone who has requested the statement with one, shows that your organisation complies with good ethical business practices. This is just one important step in ensuring that investors’, clients and other stakeholders feel confident that your organisation is doing the right thing even when no one is watching and has strong ethics at its heart.

Does It Go Far Enough?

The Act could be criticised to the extent that failing to produce an MSS has limited penalties but for an injunction (which we are yet to see used). That said, organisations should be aware of the significant reputational damage that can occur from not considering and tackling modern slavery.

Ex-Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, stated in 2021 that modern slavery requirements would be changing as soon as parliamentary time allowed, claiming that fines will be introduced for “businesses that do not comply with their transparency obligations”.

Is this the step needed to bring modern slavery to an end in English organisations?