This month much attention has been focused on the crimes of modern slavery but with diverging messages being delivered. On the one hand, the UK Government has been endeavouring to draw global attention to the scandal of modern slavery. While attending the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been seeking a global commitment to unite behind tough action to confront modern slavery and achieve more criminal prosecutions. In doing so, she announced that the UK will host an international summit for prosecutors to step up cross-border co-operation. She also announced the launch of specialist training courses for investigators. There is little doubt that despite implementation problems with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the eradication of modern slavery remains a human rights cause that Theresa May is fully committed to.

On the other hand, however, the UK’s anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has called for a “radical reform” of the national referral system created to identify and help victims, to encourage more victims to come forward. He used his first annual report to shine a light on police failings. The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) also reported that one third of businesses have not prepared a modern slavery statement despite being legally required by the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to do so. The CIPS survey found that 37% of supply chain professionals in businesses required to deliver a statement had not even read the Government’s guidance.

Against this context of diverging messages, we were delighted to host a CIPS Fellows event in London concerning Wales’ response to the Modern Slavery Act. Representatives from the Welsh Government showcased a new Code of Practice that supports the development of more ethical supply chains to deliver contracts for the Welsh public sector and third sector organisations in receipt of public funds. Organisations that sign up to the code are expected to abide by 12 commitments designed to eliminate modern slavery and support ethical employment practices. These include ensuring that:

  • those involved in procurement receive training on modern slavery and ethical employment;
  • the way in which organisations work with their suppliers does not contribute to the use of illegal or unethical employment practices within the supply chain. For example, by not applying undue cost and time pressures on suppliers;
  • false self-employment is not undertaken and umbrella schemes and zero hours contracts are not used unfairly;
  • an annual written statement is produced outlining the steps the organisation has taken during the financial year, and its plans for future actions to prevent slavery and human trafficking taking place in any part of the organisation or supply chain.

The Code should be applauded. It’s one to watch, to see how it works in practice, but arguably, something similar would benefit the rest of the UK. We would not be surprised if other countries considering their own modern slavery laws give it careful attention too, not least because businesses involved in Welsh public sector supply chains are expected to sign up to the Code and other businesses based in Wales are encouraged to do so.