This week, the UK Government published its response to the recommendations outlined in the review of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA). The review was carried out by Frank Field MP, Maria Miller MP and Baroness Butler-Sloss, and considered specific provisions of the Act: the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, transparency in supply chains (Section 54), Independent Child Trafficking Advocates and legal application of the Modern Slavery Act.
Key takeaways from the government’s response to the recommendations concerning Section 54 of the Act are outlined below.
- Leading by example. The UK Government will write its own statement, as confirmed by Theresa May at the G20 Summit. Individual ministerial departments will follow suit from 2020/21.
- Strengthening transparency through a central registry. The Government will create a central registry of slavery and human trafficking statements, as confirmed by Theresa May last month. It will cover all organisations that meet the reporting threshold, and is likely to be similar to the model used for gender pay gap
- Stricter guidance on the content of statements. The Government accepted a recommendation to include a non-exhaustive template of information that companies are expected to put in a statement – to be used from 2020.
- Increased focus on continuous improvement. Companies should demonstrate their commitment to eliminating modern slavery in their supply chains by outlining priorities for the coming year and reporting on progress from the previous year. This will be reflected in specific guidance following a consultation process (see below).
- Collective responsibility. In an effort to maintain collective responsibility for modern slavery reporting, the Government rejected the recommendation that a designated board member be held accountable for a company’s statement.
Additionally, the government has launched a consultation on transparency in supply chains. During this process the government will engage with representatives from business, NGOs and academics to gather views on the following:
- Strengthening the six recommended areas of reporting and removing the option for a company to be compliant if it states it has taken no steps to reduce the risk of modern slavery.
- Establishing a single reporting deadline to streamline monitoring of compliance – despite not being a formal recommendation in the review.
- The Government believes a central repository of statements will be a sufficient driver for compliance, but has agreed to consult on possible enforcement options, adding that ‘non-compliant organisations risk being publicly named’.
- The extension of mandatory reporting requirements to other public sector organisations. At present, government argue that public sector organisations already have the power to exclude non-compliant suppliers from the bidding process and that a central registry will make this process easier.
What does this mean for business?
The government’s response to the review sends a clear sign to business that requirements are changing. Measures such as the central registry for statements will also make it easier for consumers and other external stakeholders to assess a company’s compliance and commitment. There are also significant opportunities for business to shape the agenda around modern slavery by engaging with the government’s consultations and ensuring any further amendments to the legislation enable rather than hinder business. Finally, the direction of travel towards more robust legislation provides a stronger business case to act now rather than fall behind once the government puts new measures in place.
The government’s responses to the review echo the conclusions of the second Sancroft-Tussell report: Eliminating Modern Slavery in Public Procurement. This report analyses compliance with the Modern Slavery Act among the government’s top 100 suppliers, drivers for non-compliance, best practice and recommendations for business.
Sancroft has extensive experience in supporting our clients on the topic of business and human rights. We can help you to:
- Draft your modern slavery statement and support your response to legislative requirements
- Support responses to government consultations
- Undertake a mapping and gap analysis exercise against international legislative requirements and standards
- Carry out a comprehensive human rights risk assessment at the business, country or commodity-level to understand direct and indirect human rights risks
- Develop a holistic human rights programme through activities such as human rights due diligence and policy formulation
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