The Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into force on 29 October 2015 aimed at tackling the global problem of slavery and human trafficking. The government considers that large businesses are in a unique position to influence global supply chains to prevent such abuses taking place. With that in mind, the Act requires certain commercial organisations to prepare and publish a 'slavery and human trafficking' statement ("the Statement") for each financial year, setting out the steps (if any) it has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business and supply chain.
WHO does the requirement apply to?
The requirement applies to all body corporates or partnerships that:
- carry on a business, or part of a business, in the UK;
- supply goods or services; and,
- have a turnover of at least £36 million per annum.
WHAT must be included in the Statement?
The Act does not set out in any precise detail what information the Statement must include or how it should be structured. However, the guidance provides a non-exhaustive list of the information it may contain, including:
- the organisation's structure, business and supply chains;
- any policies relating to the issue of slavery and human trafficking;
- the due diligence process followed in relation to those issues;
- the parts of the business that are at risk of slavery and human trafficking;
- its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in its business or supply chain, measured against performance indicators;
- the training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.
WHERE must the Statement be published?
The Statement must be published online on the organisation's website and the link must be included in a 'prominent place' on the homepage so it can be easily accessed by interested parties. If the organisation does not have a website, it must provide a copy of the Statement within 30 days of receiving any written request from anyone who makes one.
WHEN does the requirement kick in?
Organisations with a year-end of 31 March 2016 or later will be the first who are required to produce a Statement. The Guidance which accompanies the Act establishes a publication deadline which is "as soon as reasonably practicable" after the financial year end. Although, the Guidance encourages publication of the Statement within a period of 6 months as being a reasonable timescale.
Risks of non-compliance
If an affected organisations fails to publish a Statement, the Secretary of State can seek to enforce the obligation under the Act by obtaining an injunction in the High Court compelling the organisation to so.
Perhaps the more pressing concern for affected organisations, however, is the potential adverse publicity and reputational damage for those organisations seen to be falling behind - or not even running - in the "race to the top" of the humanitarian challenge posed by the Act.
Human trafficking abuses can go hand in hand with right to work infringements and can give rise to civil and criminal penalties, including the potential for increased scrutiny by the Home Office and significant fines. Organisations which have taken their obligations under the Act and their right to work obligations and are seen to have taken steps to address them may be viewed in a better light by the Home Office and/or subsequent Courts and Tribunals, in the event that the worst happens.
In preparation for complying with the requirements of the Act, organisations should consider:
- conducting an internal audit to establish what steps they currently take to identify whether slavery and human trafficking is taking place in their own business;
- identifying members of their supply chain and obtain information from those suppliers regarding the steps they take to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place;
- where an organisation relies on a large number of suppliers, identify where the biggest risk of slavery and human trafficking might be and focus efforts into those areas;
- where current arrangements are found to be deficient, consider what steps need to be taken to address those deficiencies and how those steps might be implemented;
- consider whether existing policies and practices on human rights, equality and diversity, whistleblowing and recruitment among others, require updating or whether new arrangements are required.
The requirement is likely to pose a challenge to all affected organisations, particularly larger organisations or those with complex supply chains. Those organisations affected by the new requirement should take advantage of the time available before the fist tranche of Statements are required to be published, in order that they are fully prepared to comply.