Modern Slavery: an update from the UK government
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 ("MSA") 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. The statement must set out the steps the company has taken to make sure such prohibited practices are not present in their business and supply chains. 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.
Whilst no active steps have been taken thus far by the UK government to amend the MSA, the UK government recently published the 2019 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery. The report provides data on how the UK is responding to the challenge of modern slavery as well as information on the processes it has adopted in meeting this challenge. Data highlights include:
- 5,059 offences of modern slavery were recorded in 2018. This was a 49% increase from the 3,393 recorded offences in 2017.
- 377 slavery and trafficking offences, under the MSA, were prosecuted in the magistrates' court in 2018. This was down from the 444 such offences prosecuted in 2017.
- The value of asset recovery offences associated with modern slavery over the period 2018/19 was £4,656,179.69, which was down from the 2017/18 total of £7,966,458.80.
The concluding chapter of the report focusses on the UK's future response to modern slavery. The government confirms that it intends to respond to the consultation on potential legislative changes to the transparency requirement in the MSA by developing a central reporting service for statements.
Despite a couple of private members bills failing to progress through parliament², it is not inconceivable that further amendments to the MSA will take effect in the near future (possibly through alternative subsequent legislation). The current stall in progress is likely symptomatic of a wider problem affecting the passing of much legislation – the UK government’s preoccupation with Brexit. 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)
²See, for example, the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill and the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill.
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