The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (“MSA 2015”), which came into force on 31 July 2015, was the first legislative framework to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st Century. We look back over the past year to see how it has been used, what impact it has had and what developments there have been since.
Profile of the MSA 2015
The MSA 2015 was brought forward by then Home Secretary, Theresa May. As Prime Minister, May has made it clear that she considers tackling modern slavery a personal commitment and has recently set up the first ever modern slavery government task force with a budget of £33 million. The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has also been asked to assess the police response to modern slavery to "make sure that all police forces treat this crime with the priority it deserves".
The Haughey Review
Following its one year implementation anniversary, Caroline Haughey reviewed the manner in which the MSA 2015 provisions were working. The review stated that there had been an increase by 40% (compared to 2014) in the number of slavery complaints made, with modern slavery prosecutions rising by 19%. Whilst most prosecutions/convictions were for old offences, 27 prosecutions were brought under the MSA 2015. As of 31 March 2016 the Crown Courts had imposed 15 Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders (STPOs) – civil orders available to be imposed on someone who has already committed a slavery/human trafficking offence [see Part 2, s.14 MSA 2015]. Three Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders (STROs) had been successfully applied for [see Part 2, s.15 MSA 2015].
Overall, Haughey found that whilst the Act itself was fit for purpose, there was still a need to maximise its impact. The Review made it clear that the MSA 2015 was here to stay and efforts would be made to ensure investigations and prosecutions were effective.
Amendment to the law
Section 54 MSA 2015 requires commercial organisations (supplying goods or services with a turnover equal to or greater than £36m) to prepare and publish a Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement. The Statement must be published on their website with a link to it on their homepage (see our previous blog for further details on this).
The Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords in July of this year. In short, the Bill would amend the MSA 2015 so that:
- Public bodies would now be required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement;
- Commercial organisations required to publish a statement would have to do so in their annual reports and accounts, rather than just on their website; and
- Economic operators would be excluded from procurement processes not only if they had been convicted of certain offences (as is the case now) but also if they had failed to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement.
The Committee stage, which will examine the Bill line by line, is happening today (7 November).
The importance of producing a strong modern slavery statement
Organisations with a financial year ending 31 March 2016 or later are required to publish a modern slavery and trafficking statement within 6 months of their year end. This means many were due by 30 September 2016. The Director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (‘BHRCC’), an organisation collating these statements in a central directory, has said that they believe only 9% of those collated are MSA 2015 compliant. The BHRCC also criticises a number for failing to demonstrate clearly a proactive and engaged approach, suggesting a number are drawn from ‘templates’. Some FTSE 100 companies are praised for their statements which “demonstrate clarity on their risks and increasing rigor in their efforts to eliminate slavery”. Publicity surrounding these statements can therefore be hugely important. Companies need to go beyond a tick-boxing exercise and really engage with the process of identifying and taking action to tackle slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains. Positive engagement in this process will also decrease the likelihood of criminal liability arising from an MSA 2015 investigation and/or prosecution.
In January 2016, Linus Ratautus and Konstantin Sasmurin were convicted of trafficking two men working at a factory owned by the 2 Sisters Food Group (a supplier to leading supermarkets). Ratautus and Sasmurin were found to have directed the wages earned by the two men at the factory to their own accounts, giving the two individuals £20 over 4 months and a small amount of food each week. Sentenced to 3 and a half years’ imprisonment, Ratautus and Sasmurin were also given the first ever STPOs. The matter came to light after the factory’s human resources manager reported his concerns the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
Following this in June 2016, the High Court found in favour of six Lithuanian men who made a claim against British company DJ Houghton Catching Services Limited for ill-treatment during their work at the Defendants’ chicken farm. Prior to judgment, the UK Human Tracking Centre/Home Office had declared the six individuals as victims of trafficking [see judgement here]. Compensation was ordered and the Company lost its gangmaster’s licence.
These cases demonstrate the importance of early identification by companies of possible abuse and the impact companies and individuals face for those failing to prevent. Paying compensation, losing your licence and facing criminal prosecutions under the MSA 2015 are all risks companies need to be aware of.
It is clear that money, publicity and energy is going into combatting modern slavery. It is high on the government’s agenda and an increased number of investigations and prosecutions of modern slavery offences are to be expected.
This blog was written by Sophie Wood and Christopher James