Modern Slavery Act 2015: You need to take notePosted in : HR Updates on 30 May 2016
The concept of modern slavery seems completely alien to most of us. The images of slaves, enforced to provide their labour, shackled and whipped come to mind and seem preposterous to consider in the context of modern business.
It appears then that because of the idea seeming so remote, the new Modern Slavery Act passed late last year has (for many of us) either slipped under the radar, or has been dismissed as something ‘we don’t need to worry about’. The fact is that the definition of modern slavery and the requirements of the Act, paint a very real and current problem both in remote countries but also in NI itself. Most business leaders and, by default, HR practitioners do need to take note. In this month’s HR Insights we highlight the main components and duties relating to the Modern Slavery Act and what businesses need to be thinking about.
What is Modern Slavery?
Modern Slavery is a term used to encapsulate both offences in the Modern Slavery Act: slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour; and human trafficking. The offences are set out in section 1 and section 2 of the Act, which can be found at:
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into force in October 2015 and the UK Government has estimated that approximately 12,000 organisations in the UK will be affected. The Act brings together legislation relating to trafficking and slavery (including servitude and forced labour) .
The Act applies to organisations that supply goods and services and have a minimum total turnover (global) of £36 million per year. Organisation who supply goods and/or services to the larger (£36m) organisations, by default must also be able to provide information about their practices in regard to modern slavery in order to ensure transparency in the supply chain on this issue.
This is why, whilst most organisations in NI do not meet the £36 million turnover, they may still need to be on the front foot in terms of reporting practices if they are in the supply chain providing goods or services to a larger global organisation. It is good practice to review the requirements of the statement and be able to provide a statement reflecting your own organisation which can be provided on request.
It is also important to note that we know that Northern Ireland is not exempt from the horrible fact that forced labour, human trafficking and servitude exist. In 2014 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that forced labour has been found in mushroom cultivation, fishing, meat processing industry and hospitality and catering in Northern Ireland. The report quoted finding people working for very little pay (if any) who may have had passports withheld or may have been threatened with loss of accommodation to name just a few examples.
What are the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act?
The Act imposes an obligation on organisations to publish a ‘slavery and human trafficking statement’. The Statement must be publicly accessible e.g. appearing prominently on a main website page.
The Statement must include information about:
• The steps the organisation has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains, and in any part of its own business; or
• That the organisation has taken no such steps to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains, and in any part of its own business.
The Statement may include information about:
• The organisation’s structure, business and its supply chains;
• Its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
• Its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains;
• 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;
• 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; or
• The training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.
It is because of this that larger companies will be contacting by letter, organisations in the supply chain, to request details about their own actions and due diligence in this regard and whether any risks do exist.
What is the penalty for failing to comply with the Modern Slavery Act?
There is no financial penalty for failing to publish a Statement however the media and shareholders will be taking a very keen interest. Any large organisation failing to publish its statement risks public media shaming. The Government can also apply to the High Court to grant an injunction to force an organisation to comply. Such enforcement action would bring the organisation into the public eye and very likely cause adverse publicity and possible reputational damage.
Things affected organisations should be doing
• Auditing the business and supply chains for practices in relation to Modern Slavery. This will involve requesting written advice from all suppliers about their actions. Particular attention should be given to supply chains which operate in countries which are known to pose a higher risk in relation to slavery and trafficking.
• Review and implement policies in the UK and with the supply chains which address the issue of slavery and trafficking.
• Ensure that tender documentation and supplier ‘codes of conduct’ set out minimum working conditions that the supplier must provide to its staff and those whose services it uses. Reference Modern Slavery in the documentation.
• Ensure whistleblowing policies are in place which allow employees to confidently raise if they concerns over forced labour, slavery or trafficking.
The Government has published excellent guidance in relation to the Act and the annual publication of the slavery and human trafficking statement.
The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.