Peers yesterday called for modern slavery reporting rules to be toughened up, as they put forward concerns that the level of compliance with the legislation to date was not up to scratch.
Raising the question of the effectiveness of annual statements under the Modern Slavery Act in the House of Lords, Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of Cradley noted that, while many companies had complied with the requirement to provide a statement on what they were doing to stamp out modern slavery, there were still “thousands” that hadn’t. She also pointed out that, while some companies had provided pages of information about what they were doing, others had only provided a few sentences.
“Will the government seek to develop infrastructure to enforce compliance with [the Modern Slavery Act], to revise Home Office guidance to ensure statements cover all six areas required by the Act, and to specifically state that non-reporting, or reporting that no action has been taken to root out slavery, is frankly not good enough?” she asked.
Under the Modern Slavery Act, large corporates with an annual turnover of £36m or more are required to produce annual statements explaining the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their business and their supply chains.
While the rules do not demand that companies prevent slavery from taking place, they require them to be transparent about what they have done – so, if they have taken no steps that year to prevent slavery, they should make a statement to that effect.
However, in research published by the CORE Coalition earlier this month, two-thirds of the companies it examined did not refer to specific slavery risks in their statements, such as the potential risk of trafficking if the organisation’s supply chain involved gold mining.
Meanwhile, a study published by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply in September found that a third (34 per cent) of companies that should have published a statement under the legislation had failed to do so.
Responding to the questions raised in the House, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, a government whip and baroness-in-waiting for the Home Office, said it was “too early to make a formal assessment” of the impact of the legislation, but added: “We know that thousands of statements have been published, with many examples of good practice emerging.”
Vere also said the Home Office had published updated guidance on companies’ modern slavery reporting obligations earlier this month, but it was the government’s intention to “work in partnership with organisations, not create burdensome legislation”.
Also yesterday, the Home Office published its 2017 UK Annual Report on Modern Slavery. This revealed that 4,586 potential victims of modern slavery were reported to the appropriate authorities in 2016, while the number of modern slavery crimes recorded by police in England and Wales in the year to March 2017 rose 159 per cent to 2,255.
Previous figures from the Home Office, released in 2014, estimated that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2013.
However, the National Crime Agency warned in August that the scale of modern slavery was “far larger than anyone had previously thought”.
Meanwhile, a report from the Universities of Sheffield and Bath, published last month, warned that, thanks to a rise in outsourced recruiting, subcontracting and informal hiring practices, employee vetting was failing to pick up on modern slavery. Many of the incidences of modern slavery the researchers identified occurred when the worker was not part of a business’s core workforce and may have only been on site for a matter of days.
Tomorrow will mark Anti-Slavery Day 2017, which was established under a private member's bill in 2010.