Recent reports have suggested that there has been a steep rise
in modern slavery reporting. This indicates that efforts to
highlight the issue have been somewhat successful. The Salvation
Army has confirmed that it supported 1,805 victims of modern
slavery in the period between Aril 2015 and March 2016. By
comparison, it had just 378 referrals in 2011.
Some may question whether these statistics are encouraging or
depressing but our view is that, rather than indicating that modern
slavery is on the rise, they suggest that victims are more open to
reporting their circumstances. The Salvation Army's report
comes just weeks after Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to lead
the way in defeating modern slavery, confirming that a UK cabinet
taskforce will be introduced and £33 million of the annual
aid budget will be used towards funding overseas initiatives to
tackle this issue.
For employers that thought that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA
2015) was simply a tick-box exercise, please take note. The courts
have already indicated that they are willing to take action against
companies practising modern slavery. In June this year, the High
Court found a company liable for sums running into the hundreds of
thousands of pounds for breaches relating to modern slavery. This
was the first time that a UK company has been found civilly liable
to victims of trafficking, and the decision should act as a
reminder for employers that eradicating slavery is high on the
agenda for both Parliament and the UK courts.
The MSA 2015 is aimed at combating crimes of slavery and human
trafficking and consolidates historic protections. The Act creates
two new civil orders to prevent modern slavery; establishes the
role of Anti-Slavery Commissioner; and makes provision for the
protection of modern slavery victims.
Section 54 of the MSA 2015 requires organisations with a global
turnover of above £36 million to publish an annual slavery
and human trafficking statement for each financial year that ends
on or after 31 March 2016. The statement must disclose what steps
the organisation has taken to ensure that human trafficking is not
taking place in any of its supply chains or its business; or state
that it has taken no such steps. There are no specific sanctions
for failing to take any steps in relation to modern slavery but it
is hoped that the pressure of bad publicity will weigh heavily on
Whilst the annual statement requires the publication of an
annual statement, it does not prescribe the content. As a starting
point however, the statement may include details of the
organisation's due diligence processes in relation to its
business and supply chains; steps the organisation has taken to
assess modern slavery risks in different parts of the business; and
training for staff about slavery and human trafficking. We have
also suggested to our clients that it may be valuable to put in
place specific policies dealing with modern slavery.
Whilst most organisations are yet to publish their first modern
slavery reports, the scope of the MSA 2015 may be expanded pursuant
to the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill 2016-17,
a private members' bill. If enacted, the Bill will extend
section 54 to require commercial organisations and public bodies to
include a statement on slavery and human trafficking in their
annual report and accounts, and require contracting authorities to
exclude economic operators who have not provided such a statement
from their procurement processes.
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