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Articles Employment 13th Oct 2015

Employment Review: September 2015 – The Modern Slavery Act – Businesses required to make slavery and human trafficking statement every financial year

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA) received royal assent on 26 March 2015, and has as its primary purpose the making of provisions about slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour and about human trafficking, including provision for the protection of victims; transparency in supply chains of commercial organisations, and provision for an Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner.

Section 54 of the MSA, which is not yet in force, requires certain commercial organisations that supply goods or services to disclose what activity they are undertaking to eliminate slavery and trafficking from their supply chain and their own business, by preparing a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year of the organisation.

The slavery and human trafficking statement must be published on the organisation’s website, if it has one, and there must be a prominent link to this statement on the homepage. If an organisation does not have a website, it must provide a copy of the slavery and human trafficking statement to anyone who requests one in writing, within 30 days of that request.

The government response to the consultation on Modern Slavery and Supply Chains published in July 2015 has further clarified that section 54 of the MSA will apply to all commercial organisations carrying on business in the UK with a total turnover of £36m or more and that the government intends to commence the legislation in October 2015, subject to appropriate parliamentary clearance.

To give businesses sufficient time to prepare, transitional provisions will be developed so that statements are not required where a businesses’ financial year end is within close proximity to the date that the duty comes into force. The government has also stated that it will develop statutory guidance which will be published to coincide with the duty coming into force.

Section 54(5) of the MSA states that “an organisation’s slavery and human trafficking statement may include information about:

  1. the organisation’s structure, its business and its supply chains;
  2. its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
  3. its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains;
  4. the parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
  5. its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate;
  6. the training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.”

It is possible for a business to comply with section 54 of the MSA by merely stating that they have taken no steps during the financial year to ensure that their business and supply chains are modern slavery free. It is anticipated that this requirement will make transparent what action a business is or is not taking, and will allow its clients, customers, investors and the general public to make an informed decision about who they should and should not do business with.

Section 54 also sets out the enforcement mechanism for the disclosure duty. If a commercial organisation fails to comply, the Secretary of State may bring civil proceedings in the High Court for an injunction requiring that organisation to comply (or, in Scotland, in the Court of Session for specific performance of a statutory duty).

Comment

Sub-section 54(12) of the MSA defines “slavery and human trafficking” as conduct that constitutes any of the following:

  • The offences of slavery, servitude and forced orcompulsory labour and human trafficking in sections 1, 2 or 4 of the MSA.
  • The offences of slavery, servitude and forced orcompulsory labour and human trafficking in sections 1, 2 or 4 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015.
  • The traffic in prostitution offence under section 22 of the Criminal Justice(Scotland) Act 2003.
  • The trafficking for exploitation under section 4 of the Asylum andImmigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004.
  • The offences of slavery, servitude and forced orcompulsory labour under section 47 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.
  • Conduct that would constitute an offence in a partof the UK under any of the above provisions if the conduct took place in that part of the UK.

Whilst some commercial organisations may already have in place human rights and/or anti-slavery policies and procedures, the MSA will make it a statutory requirement to report and disclose on, effectively, their commitment to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their practices each financial year.

Organisations that will be required to comply with section 54 should start to prepare for implementation as soon as possible, by taking steps which could include:

  • Reviewing the working practices of their suppliers, potential subcontractors and other companies they work with to ensure thatsteps are being taken by them to ensure there is no slavery/trafficking in their practices (for example, by undertaking site inspections).
  • Making it clear to suppliers and other companies that the organisation has a zero tolerance policy towards slavery/trafficking (potentially by adding provisions into their standard terms with their suppliers).
  • Appointing an anti-slavery/trafficking compliance officer with responsibility for identifying and managing risks, and the preparation of the section 54 statement.
  • Reviewing or introducing new policies in relation to the organisation’s commitment to anti-slavery/trafficking and training employees (particularly buyers) in identifying issues related to slavery and trafficking.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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