Legal

The importance of modern slavery statements

23 May 2019 By Sarah Ozanne

Sarah Ozanne explains why employers need to make sure they are compliant with the Modern Slavery Act as the government gets stricter with audits

Modern slavery can take many forms including the trafficking of people, forced labour, servitude and slavery. The hospitality sector is particularly susceptible to issues of human trafficking and sexual exploitation – as well as labour exploitation of those working in hotels.

In 2015, the Modern Slavery Act introduced the obligation on certain businesses to publish an annual modern slavery and human trafficking statement. The aim of the statement is to encourage businesses to tackle issues of forced labour and human trafficking within their business and supply chains. Specifically, the need to publish an annual statement applies to those businesses providing goods and services, carrying on business in the UK and with an annual turnover in excess of £36 million. Those businesses covered by the criteria should publish their statement within six months of the end of the financial year to which the statement relates, and update it on an annual basis.

While to date the government has taken a soft approach to compliance, it is upping the ante. Any organisation that was required to – but did not – publish its latest statement by 31 March 2019 risks being named and shamed by the Home Office following an audit of statements. The Home Office has written to the chief executives of 17,000 organisations which it believes are non-compliant to warn them of this risk.

Organisations should not expect any individual support or guidance from the Home Office as to whether the requirements apply to them or how they should comply. Experience to date suggests that in response to such requests the Home Office has simply provided a generic response, repeating its existing guidance. 

Organisations publishing a statement to cover several corporates in its group should ensure that the statement:

Details the steps to tackle modern slavery taken by the business and supply chains of all the subsidiary organisations covered by the statement 

Clearly names all the subsidiaries covered by the statement and undertakes that the statement is published on the websites of the group and on the websites of the subsidiary organisations covered

Organisations that have published their latest statement should notify the Home Office of this or alternatively register their statement at TISCreport.org or modernslaveryregistry.org, which it appears the Home Office is using to monitor compliance in the absence of its own register. Organisations may also wish to consider registering a lead contact with the Home Office to receive regular updates from the Home Office on relevant issues.

Organisations which continue to fail to comply and are not put off by the risk of public shaming, should also bear in mind that the government has launched an independent review into what more can be done to strengthen the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act. This includes consideration of how s 54 of the Act (which sets out the transparency obligations for large businesses) might be amended to impose more robust reporting requirements. Recommendations of the review include personal accountability for board members, fines (as a percentage of turnover) and establishment of a specific government enforcement body.

Sarah Ozanne is an employment lawyer at CMS

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