As organisations seek to comply with Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, by publishing statements setting out their efforts to combat modern slavery in supply chains, is it in danger of becoming a 'tick box exercise'?
In addition some NGO's are already commenting that many published statements are showing evidence of identical wording.
Organisations such as the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre have published links to most of the statements made to date. Recent research however has revealed almost identical wording in a considerable number of them. In its guidance on such statements, the government deliberately steered away from prescribing content in the hope individual companies would set out details of the effort they are making and steps they are taking. Instead there is some concern that it has become a tick box exercise.
Many organisations have struggled even to identify their first tier supply chain and a number of those who have succeeded have merely sent a letter to them seeking confirmation that the Modern Slavery Legislation is being complied with and 'tick the box', chasing up replies with a threat of terminating business relationships.
More enlightened organisations have embraced the spirit of the legislation and having mapped at least their first tier supply chain have carried out a risk assessment and based on the findings, carried out appropriate due diligence in high risk areas or sectors. This approach is certainly what government expected.
Speaking at the Modern Slavery and Ethical Labour in Construction Leadership Symposium held at the House of Commons last week, the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland OBE expressed the view that whilst there was currently no punitive sanctions for non-compliance with section 54 at present, it could not be ruled out in future.
There is little doubt that many NGO's are closely monitoring the public statements made, with some already identifying those statements not considered compliant. This together with other recent developments and new regulation means that organisations would be well advised to keep their approach to compliance under review.
A continuous improvement approach to reporting in this area was always envisaged by government and NGO's alike especially as examination of second tier suppliers and beyond are undertaken. Organisations would be well advised to consider their future strategy in this area in the light of these developments.