In spite of the Modern Slavery Act, tens of thousands continue to work in slavery-type conditions in the UK. So how can you ensure your business and supply chain are compliant?
Back in 2013 , government estimates were around the 10 thousand mark. But a recent study by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) suggests that the figure could be 10 times higher.
Large businesses across the UK are required to carry out the necessary due diligence in their own company and supply chains to help combat modern slavery and human trafficking.
Under Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, companies with an annual turnover of £36m or more are required to publish a Modern Slavery Act statement at the end of each financial year, covering both its own business and its supply chains.
While ministers have confirmed there are about 600 active investigations taking place into offences, the UK Government is urging businesses to do more to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains.
Indeed, with an estimated 40 million people now thought to be held in slavery worldwide - more than in the 18th century at the height of the transatlantic slave trade - there's clearly much more to be done.
When the MSA was first introduced, it was considered ground-breaking, with some quietly hoping it would deliver much-needed transformational change. Yet, five years on, the flagship policy is foundering and is failing to live up to the early promise. Initial scepticism that this would become just another tick-box exercise now looks prophetic.
Modern slavery headline figures:
- Based on police data analysis CSJ believe there could be at least 100,000 victims in the UK, with the actual number likely to be even greater.
- 4 out of 10 people weren't sure what modern slavery was, according to a survey by the Co-op in 2017
- 71% of companies believe there is some likelihood of modern slavery in their supply chain, according to the Ashridge Centre at Hult International Business School
- Less than a fifth (19%) of the UK's agricultural companies currently comply with the MSA - with only 50% publishing a statement (38% of which actually complied with the law)
- 8% of companies still have no locatable statements, according to TISCreport.org
- 7 out of 10 FTSE 100 companies (73%) are failing to report sufficient measures to comply with the MSA - scoring below 40% when judged on anti-slavery risk assessments, due diligence, training and policies
- While the Act allows the government to impose sanctions for non-compliance, it's never been used to date, despite promises to 'name and shame' 17,000 companies that are non-compliant.
What more should businesses be doing to show a genuine commitment to tackling slavery?
Here is a reminder of the key controls you should adopt in your company:
1. Check your modern slavery statement
When did you last look at your modern slavery statement? Be honest. Perhaps it's time to revisit and refresh that. Assess what improvements you need to make to bring it up-to-date. It's time to go beyond the generic statements and minimum requirements, and make it more meaningful.
Modern slavery statements need to meet 3 criteria. They should be:
- Published on your company's website with a link to the full statement placed prominently on the homepage
- Approved by the board of directors, ideally including the date of approval (according to Home Office best practice)
- Signed by a director
2. Identify risks
Only 35% of companies have carried out a risk assessment of their operations, with less than 20% giving any information about geographies, commodities, or workers at risk.
It’s important to identify the key risks within your business. Think about which parts of your supply chain or business areas are most vulnerable. Know which products and services are more prone to slavery.
While you will have made efforts to identify these risks when the legislation came into play, how long has it been since you reviewed them? Perhaps now might be the time.
3. Conduct supplier due diligence
Ask your suppliers to provide of copy of their Modern Slavery statement and conduct audits on those that fall into high-risk categories. Enquire into their operations, how they source labour and materials, the prices they pay to their suppliers further down the supply chain, etc.
4. Perform human rights due diligence
Perform human rights due diligence on your business and your global supply chain to better understand potential areas of exposure or key risks in your operations. Engage with local stakeholders in different geographic locations who may have specific awareness of the local operating environment to help identify risks and draw attention to issues of worker exploitation.
5. Review existing policies
When the legislation was first introduced, no doubt you reviewed your existing corporate policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking and updated them if needed. After a few years, you know more about the act and may benefit from a fresh perspective.
- Are your policies as clear as they could be?
- Are there explicit policies (e.g. covering migrant workers, ethical trading, responsible sourcing or human rights)?
- Do they align with and reinforce other initiatives (such as UN Global Compact or Ethical Trading Initiative)?
- Is there anything else you can introduce to take greater control over eliminating modern slavery in your business and supply chains?
- Is it clear how current policies link to modern slavery and do they explicitly reference this?
- Are policies sufficiently detailed or do they just amount to warm words?
- Are there policies that deal with non-compliance among suppliers, for example?
- Is there a willingness to work together to address breaches or alleged exploitation or will contracts be severed?
- Are policies, standards and codes cascaded through the supply chain and embedded in contracts?
Any fuzziness may create confusion, at best - or worst-case scenario, result in non-compliance.
6. Appoint someone to take the lead
Accountability fosters responsibility. By giving a senior staff member responsibility for driving forward your efforts to eliminate modern slavery and trafficking in your business and supply chain, it may get a new lease of life.
- Empower them to drive change forward
- Ensure they have the resources they need - e.g. people, time, information, and training
- Encourage them to raise awareness and show why this matters
- Appoint Champions or mentors across the business who can educate, respond to problems, and tackle worker issues or concerns
7. Train your staff
Training your staff to spot the signs of modern slavery inside the company and throughout the supply chain is key. Training should focus on red flags to look out for and what to do if foul play is suspected.
Now, you may already have a modern slavery training course. But how engaging is it for your employees? Have you achieved a 100% completion rate? And how relevant is the content to your specific company?
It only takes one person to commit a violation for your company to come under threat. Tailoring off-the-shelf content or creating truly bespoke courses is one way you can make training more relevant and engaging. A quality, personalised training course will educate your staff on ways to recognise those all-important signs.
8. Use modern slavery best practices
Collaborate with peers across your sector and industry to benchmark progress and best practices. Get a better understanding of the modern slavery risks that are inherent in your business or supply chain to investigate risks and develop initiatives to drive forward industry-wide or sectoral change.
Be open-minded - sign up to initiatives and codes or join working groups (such as Banks Alliance Against Trafficking, Business Against Slavery, Stronger Together) to share intelligence and help combat trafficking.
9. Ethical profit: Profit with integrity
Stakeholders and investors need to signal to companies that rigorous due diligence and management of human rights risks demonstrates good governance and effective management. We want more trailblazers and early adopters - companies who lead by example and inspire others to act. As consumers, we are prepared to vote with our feet and simply won't tolerate abusive practices. Where there's more focus on ethical profit and the 'right culture', business leaders have greater incentive to monitor their supply chains.
Want to learn more about Modern Slavery?
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