The Modern Slavery Act (MSA) is now in force and will require almost immediate action by some housing associations (HAs). But what is the MSA and how do you know if your HA needs to take action?

The MSA aims to combat crimes of slavery and human trafficking by creating criminal offences and powers of enforcement. Many of us would be forgiven for thinking that this is a wider problem and not something UK businesses can influence. But the Government disagrees.

Slavery is not just a crime against society in developing worlds. The MSA says that businesses have a role to play and imposes obligations on organisations. However, the mandatory obligations only affect large commercial organisations with a turnover above £36 million. Those organisations are required to publish an annual statement for each financial year which ends on or after 31 March 2016. Although the obligation is only on large HAs, smaller HAs can publish a statement if they wish and many would consider it good practice to do so.

The statement is not set in stone and each HA can create their own statement. However, it should disclose what steps the HA has taken to ensure that human trafficking is not taking place in the business or in the supply chain. It needs to be approved by the HA before it is published. Alternatively, the statement can say that the HA has not taken any action – although this is clearly not ideal.

The obligation on an HA to consider whether such crimes exist within their business extends to its supply chains. The concept of a supply chain is broad and includes anything which enables the organisation to provide services such as cleaning and catering to its end user, be that by outsourcing or subcontracting. HAs need to consider how to carry out the necessary due diligence to check their supply chain. Standard terms could be introduced with suppliers to ensure they are aware of the HA’s stance on modern slavery.

Reputation is key for HAs, not only for the impact on customers but also on stakeholders and wider society. It is important that HAs take the MSA seriously and make every effort to publish a statement which accurately reflects their position.

With reputation in mind, it is also worth considering implementing a policy on the MSA of which all employees are aware and trade unions have been consulted upon. Employees should be trained on the subject as part of the organisation’s general corporate social responsibility and should assist with implementing the policy. A dedicated individual from management should be responsible for ensuring compliance with the policy and the name of this individual should be clearly communicated to all employees.

There is clearly a moral obligation to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking. All HAs, large and small, can play their part in ensuring that it does not exist within their own organisation.