New requirements on businesses and public sector to tackle modern slavery – UK Government

The UK Government is to make the requirements on businesses to tackle modern slavery more stringent, it confirmed today. Reporting under key sections of Modern Slavery Statements, required for organisations with a budget of £36 million or more, will be made mandatory. This will apply not only to businesses but also to public sector organisations above the £36 million threshold.

Those organisations, in all sectors, will also be made to publish their modern slavery statements not just on their own websites as now but also on a new digital government reporting service, to encourage transparency and accountability. This will help customers, consumers and civil society organisations more easily see, track and analyse how seriously each organisation is taking its responsibilities to stop modern slavery in its operations and supply chains. It will be launched next year.

The new measures are among a number outlined in the government’s response to the consultation on proposed changes to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, following the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act, which was run last summer.

Business and public sector organisations wishing to get expert help in meeting the new requirements and in protecting their operations and supply chains from modern slavery are encouraged to contact Slave-Free Alliance, Hope for Justice’s wholly owned social enterprise focusing on precisely these topics.

Slave-Free Alliance Director, Marc Stanton, said: “We are glad to see this strengthening of the 2015 Act and more clarity around the expectations on businesses and large organisations. We know – and the Government’s consultation confirmed – that many businesses will find mandatory reporting a challenge, and the new single reporting deadline is a big shift that will need to be planned for.

“Slave-Free Alliance members want to do the right thing when it comes to trying to tackle modern slavery. But we have also encountered too many others who are still not thinking seriously about protecting their operations and supply chains against modern slavery, or are just paying lip service to the letter of the law but not its spirit. We hope today’s announcement shakes up that thinking, and we at Slave-Free Alliance would be delighted to assist any organisation with preparing for these new requirements, no matter what stage they are at on their anti-slavery journey.”

Hope for Justice and Slave-Free Alliance were among the respondents to the government’s consultation, offering expert written evidence on what needs to change.

Paul McAnulty, UK Programmes Director at Hope for Justice, said: “We at Hope for Justice are delighted by the news that the UK Government plans to make the requirements on businesses under S.54 of the Modern Slavery Act more stringent. As one of a number of organisations who contributed to the consultation, driving this legislative strengthening, it’s assuring and affirming that the voice of survivors of this most heinous crime are being heard at the highest levels. It is great to see that the invaluable work our teams are doing to identify, rescue and support victims of slavery is transposed towards helping to drive both social and legislative reform.

“There’s still much more work to do to ensure that businesses in the UK are taking steps to protect their workforce from exploitation, but this is a positive step in the right direction, and one that has been five years in the making. Many victims only ever get to see the inside of their accommodation (which is often controlled by their exploiters) and their workplaces – making it more important than ever to engage employers in helping to spot the signs and help in identifying victims of slavery. Ignorance and apathy are not a defence.”

Full Government announcement below, courtesy of the Home Office:

The government is introducing powerful new measures to strengthen the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 and ensure that large businesses and public bodies tackle modern slavery risks in supply chains.

In a world first, public bodies which have a budget of £36 million or more, including local authorities in England and Wales, will be required to regularly report on the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains.

The government is committed to harnessing the spending power of the UK’s public sector, accounting for around £250 billion of spend, to ensure responsible practises in supply chains and bring it in line with businesses.

Under the ambitious package of measures published today, the government has also committed to mandating the key topics that modern slavery statements must cover, from due diligence to risk assessment, to encourage organisations to be transparent about the work they are doing to ensure responsible practices.

The government will also introduce a requirement for organisations with a budget of £36 million or more in all sectors to publish their modern slavery statements on a new digital government reporting service.

This new service, which will be launched early next year, will radically enhance transparency making it easier for consumers, investors and civil society to hold organisations to account for the steps they have taken to root out modern slavery.

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins (pictured) said: “Sadly, we know that no sector is immune from the risks of modern slavery which can be hidden in the supply chains of the everyday goods and services we all buy and use. We expect businesses and public bodies to be open about their risks, including where they have found instances of exploitation and to demonstrate how they are taking targeted and sustained action to tackle modern slavery.”

The announcement forms part of the government’s response to the transparency in supply chains consultation, which sought views from businesses, public bodies, investors and civil society on a range of options to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act’s transparency legislation.

The government has also committed to establishing a single enforcement body for employment rights, to better protect vulnerable workers and ensure a level playing field for the majority of employers complying with the law. The government will publish a response to this consultation in due course.

The government will take forward options for civil penalties for non-compliance with the Modern Slavery Act in line with the development of the single enforcement body for employment rights.

Peter McAllister, Executive Director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, said: “ETI is pleased to see the changes introduced by government, in particular mandated reporting areas and extension to the public sector. We hope that this leads to greater compliance and greater action from more companies. There is no excuse for any business not to play their full part to contribute to eliminating the scourge of modern slavery.”

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 made the UK the first country in the world to require large businesses to report on how they prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.

To lead the way for the public sector, in March 2020 the UK government published the world’s first Government Modern Slavery Statement, setting out the steps taken to eradicate modern slavery from its supply chains on around £50 billion of its annual spending.

All ministerial departments are now working towards publishing their individual modern slavery statements from 2021.

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