The Modern Slavery Act – is it going to have more of an impact?
On 30 July 2018, the Home Office announced that they were launching an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act (“MSA 2015”) following the publication of a report on the economic and social costs of modern slavery. It is estimated that modern slavery costs the UK up to £4.3 billion a year and that each instance of the crime costs approximately £330,000 after taking into account the cost of support, lost earnings, law enforcement and the physical and emotional harm suffered by the victims of slavery. The report also places each crime of modern slavery as second only to homicide in terms of harm to its victims and society.
The MSA 2015 became law in March 2015. Among other provisions, the MSA states that companies which supply goods or services and have a total annual turnover of not less than £36m must produce a ‘slavery and human trafficking’ statement for each financial year. However, ever since it came into force, shortcomings of the MSA have been regularly identified¹ and there has been a growing chorus of demands for it to be reviewed and its problems rectified.
The purpose of the review of the MSA 2015 is to understand how it is operating in practice, how effective it is, and whether the legal framework for tackling modern slavery is fit for purpose now and in the future. In particular, the review will consider the effectiveness of the following provisions in the MSA 2015:
- meaning of exploitation (s.3);
- reparation orders (s.8-10);
- Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (s.40-44);
- the statutory defence (s.45);
- independent child trafficking advocates (s.48); and
- transparency in supply chains (s.54).
Principles to Tackle Modern Slavery
The review will also be carried out in the context of the UK government’s recent announcement at the UN General Assembly that it has developed, alongside the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, four principles for nations to tackle modern slavery in global supply chains. The UK government announced that all governments should:
- take steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices;
- encourage the private sector to prevent and address human trafficking in its supply chains;
- advance responsible recruitment policies and practices; and
- strive for harmonisation with other governments when combatting modern slavery.
The adoption of these principles underline the fact that tackling modern slavery is an area of increasing importance and is moving further up the UK government’s agenda.
Irrespective of whether the review is adhered to and its findings turned into law, it seems increasingly likely that that further amendments to the MSA will take effect in the near future (possibly through alternative subsequent legislation). Following its introduction in 2015, there have already been attempts by UK parliamentarians to strengthen the MSA further and to punish companies who have failed to report or take seriously the problems of modern slavery or trafficking. Companies therefore should be prepared for further obligations to be imposed on them in relation to modern slavery. It is increasingly important that all companies are aware of the risks of modern slavery and confident that they have carried out effective due diligence when engaging with third party suppliers. No company should ignore the existence or possibility of slavery within its business structure.
¹See, for example, the House of Commons and House of Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights report on ‘Human Rights and Business 2017: promoting responsibility and ensuring accountability’ (published 5 April 2017)