Businesses have some catching up to do to comply with the Modern Slavery Act

The first annual report from the U.K.’s anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland has highlighted ways businesses can do more to identify and stop modern slavery in their supply chains.

The Commissioner wrote to over 1,000 companies in the U.K., outlining his expectations on what needs to be done under Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, which requires companies to produce an annual statement on the steps they have taken to eliminate modern slavery in their supply chains.

The Commissioner also met with companies across the U.K. to assess their compliance, from major businesses such as Volvo and the big five supermarkets to small independent fisheries in an attempt to work across the private sector to root out forced labor and exploitation.

Despite this legal requirement on companies to issue a report, and the increased scrutiny and enforcement on modern slavery from Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, independent research conducted by VinciWorks in June found that only 8 percent of the FTSE 500 have published a slavery and human trafficking statement. Further analysis by CORE Coalition shows that a majority of the statements that have been published do not comply with the Act. This comes amid a government crackdown on the issue, with the Home Secretary Amber Rudd announcing an additional £11 million to fight what she calls the “barbaric” crime of modern slavery.

Another major failing in the corporate response to modern slavery is the requirement to provide training to staff to enable them to identify and report potential instances of modern slavery. While it can seem modern slavery is a far-off problem, research suggests modern slavery is very much a domestic issue, occurring not just in foreign supply chains, but right here in everyday life.

One in eight NHS professionals have been in contact with a patient they knew or suspected had been exploited in modern slavery. The Home Office says there are at least 10,000 to 13,000 people in the U.K. being exploited as modern slaves, and the report from the Commissioner says that only one-quarter of the more than 3,000 referrals made last year were even recorded as crimes.

The report published on the 12th of October 2016 by the U.K.’s anti-slavery commissioner highlights private sector engagement and transparency in supply chains as key priorities for the next year. There are plans for Parliamentary committees to scrutinize and compare slavery and human trafficking statements and better enable the public, consumer groups and potential investors to assess corporate responses to modern slavery.

Industries that don’t operate overseas factories or other areas that are traditionally high risk for labor exploitation may not see complying with the Act as a high priority. However, engagement with the financial sector was listed as a major focus in the Commissioner’s report. Proceeds from modern slavery is one of the most significant money-laundering threats today, and the report highlighted work with the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Task force to assess the threat of banks and the city being caught up with ill gotten profits of modern day slavers.

If your organization conducts any of its business in the U.K., then you need to be taking immediate action to comply with the Modern Slavery Act. The guide to compliance with the Modern Slavery Act, written by experts on the new law, details the steps you must take to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement.

It is clear from this first report from the U.K.’s anti-slavery commissioner and the crackdown announced by the government that this is an area the corporate world has to take seriously.

Nick Henderson – Vinciworks

nick-hendersonNick Henderson is the Director of Course Development at VinciWorks. Nick writes on various compliance topics for U.K. and international business, including risk, GDPR, international sanctions and money laundering. VinciWorks is the leading provider of the definitive AML training suite designed by the world’s leading law firms.

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