Human trafficking and modern slavery is a significant global issue with estimates from the 2016 Global Slavery Index that 45.8 million people are subject to some form of modern slavery in the world today, trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and from which they cannot leave. The Chartered Institute of Building report, Building a Fairer System in July 2016 suggests that the construction industry generally is susceptible to the exploitation of workers and unethical practices due to the large number of organisations and workers in the UK and abroad in its supply chains.
The UK has made a clear commitment to be a global leader in the fight against modern slavery with the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The MSA consolidated previous offences making it a criminal offence under the MSA for a person or organisation to engage in slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking.
Where the MSA goes further is that the MSA requires any affected business with a UK presence, whose financial year end is on or after 31 March 2016 and has an annual turnover of more than £36 million, to post an annual website statement on the efforts they are making to address the issues of slavery and human trafficking in their own business or their supply chains or state that they are taking no such steps. These statements have become known as Slavery and Human Trafficking Statements. Affected organisations should make these disclosures within six months of their year-end. This is an annual obligation. Each year, organisations will be expected to review the steps that have been taken over the previous 12 months and update their statements accordingly – so this is far from a box-ticking exercise.
The aim of the MSA is to improve UK business by making organisations accountable for their global supply chain. This is also a key priority for the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner as outlined in his Annual Report (2015-2016). As well as being a legal obligation, compliance helps demonstrate that a business is well run. Although there are no financial penalties for failure to comply with the new reporting requirements, failure to comply is likely to have an adverse impact on an organisation’s reputation. Additionally, as construction businesses become increasingly aware of their obligation to produce Slavery and Human Trafficking Statements they may be increasingly likely to check that their own supply chain is also compliant.
The government is now consulting on introducing a requirement for a statement on slavery and human trafficking to be included in an organisation’s annual report and accounts. The message is that this legislation is clearly here to stay.