Annually, 18 October marks Anti-Slavery Day and during this period we tend to see a range of developments and debates which focus on ways to eradicate modern slavery.
The Government recently published updated guidance on the slavery and human trafficking statement that large businesses must publish each financial year. The required statement should set out the steps taken by the business to ensure no slavery or human trafficking is taking place within their business, or in its supply chains.
The guidance has been updated in an attempt to clarify some of the requirements and to establish best practice based on statements that have already been seen.
Smaller companies, i.e. those that do not satisfy the £36 million turnover requirement, have been encouraged to publish a statement voluntarily. This is recommended if the company is looking to supply a larger company that would be required to publish a statement.
These smaller businesses may see the benefits of publishing a modern slavery statement if they are responding to due diligence enquiries or if they are bidding for contracts against a company that has already published a statement.
The statement should be signed by a director who sits on the board that approved the statement and it should also include the date on which it was approved.
A modern slavery statement may include reference to the organisation’s structure, policies and due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking. However, the updated guidance states that statements “should aim to” include this information. This change suggests that it is best practice to focus on the specific information set out in the underlying legislation when producing a modern slavery statement.
Businesses should consider maintaining an archive of historical statements that are easily accessible online. The aim of this is to increase transparency and highlight which companies are taking slavery seriously. Stakeholders will be able to gauge the company’s progress by comparing statements with those from previous years.
It is recommended that businesses regularly and consistently publish a statement, even if turnover falls below the threshold (of £36 million). This will demonstrate a strong commitment to the prevention of slavery.
The earlier guidance highlighted that labour trafficking is the most prominent form of exploitation recorded for potential child victims of slavery. As a result of this, the updated guidance has introduced a definition of child labour, along with advice on how to spot it.
Other modern slavery developments
The House of Lords has called for tougher rules for making modern slavery statements following a recent debate into how effective the Government has found them to be.
The proposals included: developing an infrastructure to enforce compliance; establishing a website to which all companies should send their modern slavery statements; amending the Companies Act to incorporate the requirements; and making the rules mandatory and applying them to government procurement.
Despite these suggestions, the Government intends to focus on working together with businesses and not on implementing more burdensome legislation.
The Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill 2017
This Bill is currently making its way through the House of Lords and calls for a more stringent approach to compliance. It proposes that the Government publishes a list of companies who comply with the requirement to publish a modern slavery statement with a view to highlighting those that do not. The Bill would require companies who state that no action has been taken in relation to modern slavery to state why this is the case and introduce mandatory requirements for the content of a modern slavery statement.
Statements going forward
It has been noted that many of the statements published to date do not comply with some of the basic requirements, such as being displayed on a prominent part of the company’s website or being signed by a director.
The lack of a prescribed format for statements means it is difficult to compare them effectively and establish any sort of market practice.
However, it is hoped that the updated guidance will go some way to clarifying the uncertainties and lead to greater consistency between published statements. More guidance should be expected in the future as a greater understanding of supply chain issues develops and the quality and consistency of published statements increases.