Companies are under pressure to tackle modern slavery, although many remain confused with what modern slavery is, how to detect it and what steps should be taken once identified. Modern slavery is the exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain. Modern slavery often happens around us, only out of sight. Modern slavery is a human rights violation and has detrimental impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of survivors. Modern slavery encompasses:
- Forced Labour; and
- Human Trafficking
Victims of modern slavery may be employed to work in factories making clothes, in restaurants serving food and employed in houses as cleaners or cooks. From the outside it seems like an ordinary job, but internally these very people are being controlled, facing violence, forced into debt and being threatened with deportation due to confiscation of passports. Many concerns have been raised about modern slavery and forced labour in UK business supply chains.
What is the Modern Slavery Act 2015?
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 places obligations on businesses to report the steps they take to eradicate slavery from their business. This law applies to any company doing business in the UK with an annual turnover of £36 million or more. The two main parts of this Act are:
- Take action to identify, prevent and mitigate modern slavery in your operations and supply chains;
- Publish an annual statement to report on these actions - within six months of the company’s financial year end.
Even if your business is not legally obliged to comply with the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act, responsible practices will maximise impact and will help prevent modern slavery within businesses and supply chains from occurring. Tackling modern slavery not only helps vulnerable workers but it also prevents human rights violations.
As supply chains are now able to span across the globe, there is a heightened risk of exposure to poor working conditions and compliance gaps, making it increasingly difficult to detect unethical practices occurring. Looking at the statistics, the International Labour Organisation estimates there were 24.9 million victims of modern-day slavery or forced labour across the world, of the 24.9 million, 16 million were exploited in organisations linked to international businesses. Supply chains are often multi-layered, that deal with multiple contracts, suppliers and processes which can lead to blind spots.
Why should you address modern slavery within your business?
There are many reasons you should address modern slavery within your business:
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 places obligations on businesses to report the steps they take to eradicate slavery from their business.
International Conventions and Laws
Most countries have ratified key International Labour Organisation (ILO) provisions, most notably the Forced Labour Convention (C29) and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (C105).
Protecting your brand
Consumer businesses face growing expectations from consumers that their products/services comply with human rights criteria.
Businesses may face a negative brand reputation where media coverage highlights slavery and forced labour in its supply chain, this may lead to loss of investors, customers or public confidence.
Import and export of goods
In some countries, the import and export of goods produced by forced or trafficked labour may be prohibited by trade regulations. Businesses may find themselves at a loss in these jurisdictions where allegations may result in confiscation of goods or disruptions to trade and production schedules.
What can businesses do to tackle Modern Slavery?
Legislation and social governance may improve business responses to these risks however to overcome key challenges businesses must ask the right questions around human rights, working conditions and review parts of the supply chain most at risk in order to implement protective measures which may include:
- Developing a Modern Slavery policy;
- Producing a Modern Slavery statement
- Selecting suppliers diligently
- Training employees on how to identity and report slavery concerns;
- Conducting due diligence on any third party client/customer/partner/supplier
Businesses should be acting diligently to reduce the risk of modern slavery worldwide and the impact it may have on their business.
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The opinions on this page are for general information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on which you should rely.