11 July 2015: Co-written with Abhishek Verma of the Association of Sustainability Practitioners (ASP)
What is Modern Slavery?
According to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols, Modern Slavery or Human Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, and harbouring of a person by threat, force, coercion, abduction, deception, or abuse of their vulnerability with the aim of exploiting them.
It is the fastest growing, and second most lucrative criminal operation in the world, on a par with the arms trade, and second only to the illegal drugs industry.
Both children and adults are trafficked. The experience deprives them of a wide range of rights, including the right to education, to healthcare, as well as the right to freedom from violence, and to not be subjected to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Modern Slavery takes on many forms – including for the purposes of domestic servitude, child sexual exploitation, and forced labour. This briefing is concerned with modern slavery for forced labour and the implications for British businesses and their supply chains.
How does Modern Slavery Impact Businesses in the UK?
Millions of people within the manufacturing, construction and agriculture sectors are in modern slavery in the world today. As the supply chains stretch across multiple locations and continents, UK business and consumers could be unknowingly contributing towards the exploitation of modern slavery overseas.
However there are also many cases of forced labour here in the UK – indeed labour trafficking appears to be overtaking trafficking for sexual exploitation in this country. According to a report on slavery by the Greater London Authority “What can be found in London are children and vulnerable British adults and often irregular migrants being relentlessly exploited.”
What is the Modern Slavery Act 2015?
“The Modern Slavery Bill…will require all businesses over a certain size to disclose what steps they have taken to ensure their businesses and supply chains are slavery free” Teresa May, Modern Slavery and Supply Chains Consultation, 2 February 2015.
It is the first Act that has been introduced in the UK that is specifically aimed to address the issue of slavery and human trafficking.
Part 6 of the Modern Slavery Act “Transparency in supply chains”, requires businesses to publish the steps they have taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place within their organisations or supply chains. A commercial organisation is required to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year.
The annual slavery and human trafficking statement may include:
- The organisation’s structure, its business and its supply chains;
- its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
- its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains;
- the parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
- its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate;
- the training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.
Part 6 applies to any commercial organisation which undertakes all or part of its business in the UK, and supplies goods or services. The commercial organisation can be a body corporate or partnership (wherever incorporated or formed). The bill could cover both UK-based and non UK-based companies.
The Consultation Document from the Home Office focuses on large organisations who would have the capacity to exert significant influence on the supply chains through a due diligence. Companies that would be required to produce a report at various threshold levels, have been identified by the government.
Why should commercial organisations be vigilant about slavery in their supply chains?
As well as legal and moral obligations, the increased expectations by many stakeholders such as governments, NGOs and consumers on the transparency of the supply chain have compelled businesses to source ethically and become more vigilant with regard to child labor, forced labor and workplace health and safety.
In addition, many companies now pride themselves on their ethical mandate, which has become a core corporate value and the basis on which a business and its marketing is founded. In such instances, protecting against human trafficking in the supply chain is a critical part of maintaining the integrity of an organisation.