Freedom from slavery is a basic human right, but government research suggests there are at least 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK. The reality is that the actual number is likely far higher as slavers make great efforts to conceal their illegal activity, especially indentured workers that may be working throughout the supply chain.
Modern slavery in the UK takes various forms and is particularly prevalent in the construction, domestic work and agriculture industries. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was introduced to tackle modern slavery in the UK and introduced new requirements for organisations regarding their business and supply chains.
Modern slavery is a complex crime, and the Modern Slavery Act affects organisations that meet criteria to assess and disclose efforts to eliminate slavery from their organisation and supply chains. Our Modern Slavery Awareness eLearning course builds awareness, outlines responsibilities and is suitable for employees and managers.
What is the Modern Slavery Act 2015?
The Modern Slavery Act is a government bill designed to combat slavery in all its forms.
This includes sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, criminal exploitation and the most common form of modern slavery, forced labour. When it came into force in 2015, it introduced several new measures to prevent slavery and methods for reporting incidences of the practice.
These include the following:
- The independent anti-slavery commissioner’s office – This is an independent monitoring body of the Home Office dedicated to encouraging good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery offences and identifying victims. An independent anti-slavery commissioner leads the body.
- Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders (STPOs) and Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders (STROs) – These civil orders were introduced by the Act, and both restrict the activities of an unconvicted person where there is a risk that they will commit a trafficking offence. Because these orders apply to those suspected of trafficking activity rather than those convicted, they are paramount in defending against potential slavery offences.
- Increasing the provision of support and protection of modern slavery victims – Part 5 of the Act entitled ‘Protection of Victims’ outlines various measures and networks to assist victims, from civil legal aid to emergency housing. The Act also placed higher emphasis upon the identification and support of slavery victims and increased awareness of the issue.
- The duty to notify and National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – It is a legal requirement of local authorities to inform the Home Office of any individual encountered in England and Wales who they believe is a suspected victim of slavery or human trafficking. This can be done online through the government’s dedicated referral service.
- Section 54: transparency in supply chains – This section of the Act relates directly to business practice and requires organisations of a specific size to publish a Modern Slavery Act statement.
Who does the Modern Slavery Act affect?
All organisations must take steps to avoid slavery occurring within the organisation or – crucially – at any stage of the supply chain, such as overseas suppliers of products, materials and ingredients.
Sectors with higher incidences of slavery and trafficking include construction and domestic labour, but all organisations should scrutinise their supply chains.
The Act specifically requires organisations that fulfil the criteria outlined in Section 54 to publish a modern slavery act statement. Organisations that fit the criteria should also register with the modern slavery contact database.
Smaller organisations may not be required to publish an annual statement but could be part of the supply chain a larger organisation reports on. As a smaller business you may face contractual requirements in new agreements that require you to report on your business operations in respect of the Act. Examining and reporting on your business’s position with regards to modern slavery will also help boost your reputation with customers, investors and other stakeholders.
What is the Modern Slavery Act 2015 Section 54?
This section refers specifically to business organisations.
It requires all organisations doing business in the UK and with annual profits of over £36 million, publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement. This statement must be approved by the organisation’s board and signed by the director.
The modern slavery statement should detail:
- The due diligence processes your organisation carries out on its supply chains.
- Actions your organisation has taken to avoid slavery in any of its supply chains and any part of its own business.
- Any international supply and trade routes and the regions your organisation is active.
- Any sections of your organisation that are at risk of involving modern slavery, such as cocoa plantations or clothing factories.
- Initiatives such as modern slavery training schemes.
Your statement should also outline any associated policies such as a corporate social responsibility initiative. These statements should be published every financial year. Failure to comply with this legal requirement could result in an injunction from the High Court, sent by the Secretary of State requiring the organisation to comply. If the organisation doesn’t comply with the injunction, it could face an unlimited fine as it would be in contempt of a court order.
How to conduct a modern slavery health check
Sometimes called a modern slavery audit, a health check is an excellent way to ensure you fulfil your legal and moral obligations as an organisation against slavery.
Here are six steps to conducting a health check.
- Identify modern slavery risks at your organisation – Examine areas within your business processes that could be prone to slavery, such as your cleaning staff or your international supply chain for certain goods.
- Exercise supplier due diligence – Request copies of your suppliers’ modern slavery statements if they have them. Run checks on the details they provide, such as company addresses etc. Investigate their workforce payroll and working conditions further down their company structure.
- Exercise human rights due diligence – Connect with local stakeholders across the organisation’s different locations who may have insight into company practice relating to the treatment of employees.
- Train your staff in modern slavery awareness and actions – Teach your staff the key indicators to look out for, show them how to report anything they notice and highlight why stamping out slavery is so essential.
- Elect an anti-slavery director – Appointing someone to lead your organisation in eliminating modern slavery could help your initiatives gain momentum and ensure that all steps are being taken to comply with the Act.
- Collaborate over modern slavery best practices – Discuss anti-slavery practices with your peers to develop your policies and processes. Forming alliances against slavery and trafficking also strengthens your position when challenging or reporting suspected incidences.
Make sure your organisation is up-to-date with Modern Slavery Awareness training with our expert IOSH Approved and CPD Certifed Modern Slavery Awareness eLearning course, suitable for all types of organisation and helps support compliance.