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Modern day slavery

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What are employers' obligations and how can they help to eradicate modern day slavery?

The history of slavery spans many cultures, nationalities and religions from ancient times to modern day. Many people believe slavery is a thing of the past but unfortunately the stark reality is that modern day slavery is prevalent in our time and is not confined to history.

Every year on 2 December, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery highlights the atrocities of modern day slavery that still exist in the world.  As modern slavery is often well disguised and not easily recognisable the focus of this day is to raise awareness of and to eradicate the different forms of slavery which still exist today.  

Modern day slavery is present all over the UK and is on the increase each year, with over 10,000 people referred to authorities in 2019.  The actual number of people trapped in slavery is estimated to be far higher with the current pandemic threatening to fuel an increase due to the exploitation of those affected by poverty and lack of opportunity.

What is modern day slavery?

Modern day slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. It covers a wide range of abuse and exploitation and victims of modern day slavery can be any age, gender, nationality and ethnicity.   Modern day slavery can take many forms whether it is people working in factories making our clothes, picking our crops or working in homes as cleaners or nannies. In the UK you may find illegal exploitation in the following industries: farming, construction, seafood, beauty, housekeeping and childcare. 

What are the obligations of employers?

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is the first piece of legislation which unified and simplified previous legislation and introduced a number of measures to combat slavery and human trafficking. These mainly focus on the prosecution of traffickers and offer greater protection for victims.  However the Act also places a duty on large businesses to take an active role in eradicating slavery from their global supply chains.  As a result businesses must therefore disclose and take active steps to ensure that there is no modern slavery in their business or supply chains.

Section 54 of the Act requires businesses with a turnover of £36 million or above who provide goods and services in the UK to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year. To meet the requirement of the Act the statement must set out the steps the organisation has taken to ensure its business and supply chain is free of slavery or state that no such steps have been taken. At the time of writing it is not mandatory to include any further information in the statement.

A link to the statement, which has been approved and signed by a director must then be published on the organisations website. Whilst the legislation states that a statement confirming no steps have been taken at all would be sufficient, the government believed that organisations who took no action, would likely be subjected to increased social pressure and examination. To avoid this they would then comply with their obligations and take active steps to ensure transparency in their supply chains.

Currently no sanctions can be imposed including fines for failure to produce a Transparency Statement.

What can smaller organisations do?

Many organisations who are not affect by the Act see the benefit of supporting the eradication of modern slavery and have chosen to make voluntary statements.

Organisations may also wish to incorporate awareness training on modern slavery or address this within their main employment policies. Awareness is a key tool in the fight to eradicate modern slavery.

How can organisations demonstrate the prevention of modern slavery?

  • Consider specific training for employees who are at a risk of exposure to slavery and trafficking.
  • Draft and regularly review a specific company policy regarding these issues and any related policies.
  • Appoint a compliance officer to monitor and enforce the relevant policies and also to measure the effect of any anti-slavery actions undertaken.
  • Establish and regularly review clear supply chain due diligence and audit processes designed to identify and eliminate any slavery or trafficking.
  • Engage closely with suppliers to resolve any issues around slavery and trafficking.

Can more be done?

Following increased pressure the government has carried out a review and set out new measures to toughen modern slavery reporting rules. 

The main changes include the current guidance on the key areas of focus for voluntary statements will be made mandatory and reporting obligations will be extended to public bodies with annual budgets in excess of £36 million.

There will also now be six compulsory topics that the statements must cover, as set out below:

  • organisational structure and supply chains;
  • policies on modern slavery and human trafficking;
  • due diligence in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
  • risk assessment and management;
  • the actions that the organisation has taken to prevent slavery and human trafficking in its business or supply chains, measured against performance indicators, if appropriate; and
  • staff training on slavery and human trafficking.

Further proposed changes include a single reporting deadline of 30 September and a central government-run reporting service to which organisations will be required to upload their statements.

The government will also consider civil penalties for non-compliance and enforcement options in line with the development of the Single Enforcement Body for employment rights.

The above changes show the government’s commitment to eradicating modern day slavery and that they are keen to be the leading and driving economy on this issue. The government will issue a further update on the above in due course.

How can Talbots help?

At Talbots we can provide you with advice and assistance on what the latest changes to the Modern Slavery Act mean for your business.  We can also guide you to ensure you are able to issue an accurate Modern Slavery Statement and have measures in places protecting the reputation of your business.  We offer training on all areas of employment law to include Modern Slavery, Human Rights and Bribery.

For more information on this or any other employment issue, please email Ellie Robinson-Brady or or call our team on 0800 118 1500 to find out how we can help you today.