How employers can root out modern slavery

Solicitor Shan Evans reviews what organisations need to include in their statements on slavery and human trafficking

Shocking stories of modern slavery in the UK are being aired more and more frequently, and it is clear that the issue is widespread, insidious and difficult to tackle.

The prime minister has described modern slavery as “the great human rights issue of our time” and examples of this damaging practice can be found in the supply chains of hospitality businesses, consumer goods manufacturing, construction and many other sectors.

Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires certain organisations to put together a slavery and human trafficking statement each year. The statement should set out what steps companies have taken to ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their business or supply chains.

This is an acknowledgement by the Home Office that slavery is a hidden crime used solely to maximise profits, which can be facilitated by businesses – knowingly or unknowingly – and this is an area where British business can help shut down opportunities for those who operate in this dark trade.

If an organisation fails to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement for a particular financial year, the secretary of state may seek an injunction through the High Court.

New guidance published by the government provides advice for employers about their responsibility to develop, publish and adhere to a slavery and human trafficking statement.

Who is obliged to publish a statement?

Any commercial organisation with an annual turnover of £36m or above that carries on any part of their business in the UK is obliged to produce and publish a statement.

Smaller organisations, with a lower turnover, can voluntarily produce a statement if they wish. A number of smaller firms do this to be transparent about their ethics, their ethos and their business practices.

What should be included?

The statement should include insight from the business around the risks of modern slavery in its supply chain, and should detail the steps being taken to address those risks. The organisation is not being asked to guarantee that trafficking is not happening in any part of its supply chain – instead it must show the steps it is taking to safeguard against it.

A legal professional can help firms gather relevant information and carry out due diligence in this area. Businesses should be careful to inspect their supply chain when carrying out their research; their efforts need to go beyond basic compliance.

The spirit of the Act is to give businesses the opportunity to create better policies and processes to remove modern slavery from the supply chain, and the onus is on large companies to show the improvement and development of their policies year-on-year.

The statement should certainly cover:

  • The structure and operations of the business

  • Any policies relevant to slavery and human trafficking

  • The company’s due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in their supply chain

  • Details of training for directly employed staff and supply chain staff

  • Where the risks in the supply chain are and how they are being mitigated

  • The effectiveness of the approaches that are being taken

The statement should then be approved and signed off by a staff member at senior level (a director or a partner).

Who should have access to the statement?

A company’s slavery and human trafficking statement is a public-facing document. It is designed to show not just the Home Office but also the public, consumers, investors and the media how seriously, or otherwise, a company takes this issue, and how committed it is to tackling it.

It should therefore be written in simple language; it can be succinct, so long as it covers all the relevant points; and it should be published in a prominent position on the company’s website, with a link to it on the homepage. This is an important piece of work that all relevant companies should put serious thought and effort into.

Shan Evans is an associate solicitor in the employment and HR team at JCP Solicitors