The government has made it a legal obligation, under section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, for any commercial organisation with a turnover of £36m or more to be transparent regarding the steps it is taking to prevent modern slavery in its own organisation and its supply chains.
Such transparency is aimed at demonstrating to the public, consumers, employees and investors the action being taken to tackle modern slavery. This will expose all such organisations to greater scrutiny from the media, pressure groups and potential business partners. Failure to comply may result in legal punishment, injunctions, unlimited fines and very likely reputational damage which in turn may affect profit and the organisation’s survival in an increasingly ethical trading environment.
In a market place where the public sector is a major consumer, it is likely that failure to comply with this legislation may result in severe pressure not to engage with any business which is seen not to be taking this issue of modern slavery seriously and thus the risk of becoming an organisational pariah.
The legislation is not simply a one-off tick box exercise. It is intended, and expected, that organisations will build on the steps they are taking on a year on year basis, indeed the government seeks to create a ‘race to the top’ between organisations, those who do not engage may find finishing at the bottom of the table an uncomfortable place to be with many difficult questions to answer.
Compliance with the legislation requires an organisation to produce and publish, clearly on its website, an annual Slavery Statement. The guidance issued by the government suggests the statement may include information on the organisation’s structure, business and supply chains, its policies and due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking, an assessment of the risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and of the effectiveness of the prevention measures employed, evaluated by appropriate performance indicators.
Finally, the statement should detail the training and capacity-building measures that have been provided and put in place to ensure everyone in its organisation is alive to the risks and able to effectively identify and combat modern day slavery.
Establishing training for staff will be crucial to an organisation’s success or failure in preventing and tackling modern day slavery and should be considered at various levels and roles, from the shop floor – where the victims may be, all the way through to the boardroom – where the leadership team will ultimately be responsible for signing the organisation’s modern day slavery statement.
Joint training between partner organisations and supply chains is possible and would assist in better understanding of the risks involved to all parties.
Training can be developed and targeted to enable leaders to create policies and procedures to protect the organisation and its staff, and to equip employees who might encounter victims directly to identify the indicators of modern slavery and to take appropriate initial action.
Policies, procedures and practices need to be carefully drafted and then implemented through effective communication by appropriately skilled personnel. Anti-slavery activity within an organisation and its supply chains should become embedded as standard practice which all staff, whatever their role, are aware of and incentivised to partner and support. Clear policies should mean that all employees within the organisation and its suppliers know how to prevent or identify exploitation, providing information about the steps to take if modern slavery or human trafficking is identified, and how to deal with it. There will likely be a need to partner (in and/or outside the business) in influencing remedies for workers or ceasing or suspending of that business relationship in the worst cases.
An organisation must be able to investigate and assess the immediate risks of modern slavery in its own business and its supply chains and to have a clear policy on what should happen if a supplier, or the business itself, is found to be involved in modern slavery. Such action will need to be set out in new or existing contracts along with the checks, assurances and investigations that the company will expect to be in place.
Audits should be conducted by externally-trained internal teams or by third party independent auditors, a combination of both seems a sensible option. Confidential interviewing of workers (in a manner protecting their safety) to understand any potential risks of bonded or other forced labour or slavery may be seen as necessary to ensure that this hidden crime is exposed and potential victims rescued from their exploitation.