The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (Duty to Notify) Regulations SI1743 requires any organisation that supplies goods or services and carries on any part of their business in the UK, with a turnover of £36m or more, to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement for each relevant financial year and thereby increase transparency by ensuring that interested parties know what steps are being taken to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking, an abhorrent abuse of human rights.
There are three minimum requirements for obligated organisations namely that a Modern Slavery Act statement sets out steps taken to address slavery and human trafficking in its business operations and the supply chain, that the statement is approved by the board and signed by a company director and that the statement is available on the homepage of the company’s website.
Stamping out modern slavery and human trafficking is also included as one of the targets to deliver the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals agreed by UN Member States in 2015 namely to ‘take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and, by 2025, end child labour in all its forms’.
During the evening there were conversations between Olivier Roth, The Law Society, Patricia Carrier, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Steve Gibbons, Ergon Associates, Louise Nicholls, Marks and Spencer, Anne Lindsay, CAFOD, and Ron Reid, Shoosmiths.
The guest speakers focused on a number of themes exploring:
What company Modern Slavery Act reports tell us about what they are doing to tackle modern slavery;
Company views on the challenges in developing and implementing an effective modern slavery programme and response;
Civil Society views on what Modern Slavery reports tell us about company action on modern slavery; and
Some of the difficult legal issues relating to Modern Slavery statements.
There were also table discussions exploring what ‘good’ looks like for due diligence and risk assessments and what companies will be reporting on in five years’ time.
Delegates were also pointed to a number of resources to help them address modern slavery and human trafficking.
Ron Reid, Shoosmiths Consultant shared his thoughts on legal issues relating to Modern Slavery statements:
- Some organisations do not appreciate their obligations e.g. HQ location and country of incorporation irrelevant, only requirement is carrying out business in the UK.
- Drawing clear lines between group corporate structures can be difficult if no one statement to cover whole group.
- An erroneous perception that slavery/human trafficking occurs mainly abroad rather than in the UK. Such businesses are failing to understand that it is prevalent here and widespread.
- For any lawyer involved with statements go beyond just the issue of modern slavery to look more widely at human rights.
- Best practice isn’t just legal compliance.
- Kevin Hyland, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, will identify and contact companies who are not dealing with the regulations. If no response likely to name and shame.
Olivier Roth, Policy Advisor, Law Society commented ‘The fight against modern slavery requires businesses, the legal profession, Non-Governmental Organisations, and government to work together. This event aimed to bring together practitioners from all these sectors, so they could explore best practice, share insights, and develop effective strategies to implement inside their own organisations. While the UK has made important progress in this area, there are still many challenges to overcome. This event, and others which will follow, are critical in identifying and addressing them.’