Modern slavery and UK business – is the law set to change? 

The Compliance People Consultant Dave Almond looks at modern slavery legislation, what it means to employers, and possible changes we may see in the future 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, amongst stories of local lockdowns and poor social distancing in workplaces, some major businesses have been thrust into the headlines facing modern slavery investigations. Workers linked to some companies were alleged to be being paid as little as £3.50 per hour according to undercover newspaper reports.

What is modern slavery? 

The charity Anti-Slavery International describes modern slavery as “the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain. Modern slavery is all around us, but often just out of sight. People can become entrapped making our clothes, serving our food, picking our crops, working in factories, or working in houses as cooks, cleaners or nannies.  

Modern slavery often involves control over people’s liberty through violencethreatsthe taking away of passports, or through placing them in situations where they are unable to repay debts.  

How big of a problem is it? 

The scale of modern slavery worldwide is huge, with an estimated 40 million people in slavery globally in 2016.  

In the UK, the number of potential victims identified each year has more than doubled from 3266 in 2015 to 6993 in 2018. 

In UK industry, the sectors where workers are most at risk from modern slavery are construction and hospitality. 

What is the UK doing? 

Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires businesses with a total turnover over £36 million to produce annual slavery and human trafficking statements.  

On 26th March 2020, the UK Government became the first country to publish a modern slavery statement. The statement commits all ministerial departments to publishing their own modern slavery statements from 2020/2021. 

At present, smaller businesses do not have any duties under this legislation; however, in reality, where they are supplying goods or services to larger organisations, they may be asked to confirm how they are taking steps to address modern slavery in their own business and supply chain.  

In practice, if you’re a smaller business it would be sensible for you to have a voluntary slavery and human trafficking policy in place in your own business. 

Could there be changes for business in future? 

In 2018 the UK Government commissioned a review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and they are now considering the recommendations 

The Act has been criticised for only applying to larger companies and allowing company statements to effectively say that they haven’t taken action to address the issue. It has also been revealed that only 40% of those companies meeting the threshold are legally compliant.  

The final review report recommendations include: 

  • creating a register of companies required to report; 
  • extending to both public and private sectors; 
  • removing permission to report no action on modern slavery; and  
  • requiring companies to consider their entire supply chain when reporting. 

There is also pressure to reduce the £36 million reporting threshold to bring smaller companies into scope of the Act and suggestions have been made that a labelling system should be created to demonstrate whether products are made in good working conditions. 

The Government is now deciding on the best way forward having accepted many of the report recommendations and The Compliance People will keep you updated on any further consultations or changes to the Act. 

Within our health & safety legal compliance audits, The Compliance People will examine your company’s compliance with the  Act, identify any gaps and guide you on the steps you can take to ensure you are complying with its requirements.

Contact us today to be sure your business meets its modern slavery legal obligations.