The Modern Slavery Act requires all businesses with an annual global turnover at least £36 million to produce a modern slavery statement each year. It should include details of what (if anything) the business is doing to combat modern slavery and human trafficking within its business and supply chain – both in the UK and abroad. This should be published within six months of the end of their financial year. This statement must be published on the business’ website, with a link to it in a prominent place on the homepage.
The Modern Slavery Act also makes it an offence to hold a person in slavery or servitude, or require them to perform forced or compulsory labour.
Recent research by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply has shown a serious lack of engagement with the issue. It suggested 34% of organisations required by law to complete a modern slavery statement have failed to do so. Furthermore, only 45% of organisations have provided any training to their staff to help them spot modern slavery.
Currently, there are no punitive consequences for not publishing a modern slavery statement (financial or otherwise). However, Home Office Minister Sarah Newton said the government was considering whether further steps may be necessary to ensure large firms reported properly and took effective action in regards to forced labour. It has been suggested that one way to increase compliance would be to levy fines on businesses that fail to comply.
One cause of the lack of action is a possible perception that the only firms who use suppliers in the developing world need to worry about modern slavery however there is often a genuine risk, closer to home.
Slavery in the UK
A recent study by the University of Sheffield and the University of Bath determined that UK businesses run the risk of employing forced labour as they do not know enough about their staff. Current checks were deemed “not fit for purpose.” Examples of exploitative practices used by unscrupulous agents include forcing victims to work for little or no pay, withholding their passports, or tricking them into incurring large debts through deduction for accommodation, food, transport or other services, or even threatening them. The use of outsourcing, subcontracting and temporary workers also makes modern slavery more difficult to spot. For instance, in the agricultural sector workers may only be on site for a period of days or weeks, making it difficult to detect abuses before affected workers are moved on to another jobsite.
Statistics released by the National Crime Agency showed the number of potential victims of slavery and human trafficking has more than doubled the last three years, with 3,805 people referred for help in 2016. Previous estimates had suggested there were up to 13,000 potential victims in the UK, however the NCA now considers this figure to be the “tip of the iceberg.”
The net is tightening
The UK’s antislavery body, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) has launched 185 modern slavery investigations since May, nearly doubling its total for all of 2016 of 100 in total. It is focusing in particular on the treatment of workers in certain sectors, including: hospitality, agriculture, carwashes, construction, textile manufacturing, as well as cleaning and warehouse operations. The GLAA can also investigate non-payment of the National Minimum Wage, as well as breach of the Agency Worker Regulations – which set minimum standards on pay, hours and the right to a written contract. To cope with the increase in work, the GLAA has taken on an additional 50 investigators. Investigations have been instigated for a variety of reasons, including tipoffs from exploited workers, unions, concerned members of the public, and businesses.
The “labour supply chain”
Firms should be vigilant in monitoring their “labour supply chain,” and implement methods to enable them to determine the origin of their various workers and employees. It requires examination of networks used in which forced or trafficked workers can be recruited, transported and supplied to organisations by 3rd party agents. This can be a difficult task, as some workers can be several steps removed from a businesses’ core workforce. Training is essential in this regard.
Firms and their staff should also be on the lookout for warning signs that suggest someone is being coerced into work, including:
If your businesses’ labour suppliers are incredibly cheap or flexible, there may be a reason and that reason could lead to your firm facing prosecution.
For questions or assistance regarding modern slavery, including with modern slavery statements, please contact Clarkslegal.