Whilst we were mulling over the pronouncements from our new Prime Minister about corporate governance and more responsible business and what this may mean for employers, Theresa May issued a call to action to address modern slavery: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/defeating-modern-slavery-theresa-may-article

Many may have thought the requirement for large UK and global businesses to issue a public statement about what has been done by their business and group to prevent and address modern slavery was just words. However this Government intends to make the UK the country which leads on taking action, including prosecuting – and not only in the UK – against labour practices such as human trafficking and labour market abuse.

The requirements on businesses will gather momentum and increase the risks for business with increased awareness:

  • Police forces across the UK will be required to give priority to taking action against modern slavery ;
  • Outside the UK, our enforcement agencies will work with other authorities and governments, led by the new Anti-Slavery Commissioner;

Whilst there is no suggestion of penalties being introduced for businesses who do not meet their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (click here to see if you are caught), this cannot be ruled out. What is more important is the increased attention to which working conditions both within and outside the UK will be subject. Organisations which wish to avoid the risk of using suppliers or supply chains where illegal practices might operate must actively audit and set out their operating standards clearly and implement them. Demonstrating a commitment to do the right thing is not enough.

When questions are raised, whether by the police, Anti-Slavery Commissioner or Health & Safety Executive and other enforcement agencies, it will not be enough to point to your Modern Slavery Statement. The questions to be answered are: what measures has the organisation taken to mitigate the risk, deal only with reputable businesses and ensure there is no exploitation of labour (or worse)? Simply pointing to an MSA Statement will not suffice.

It is also very possible that the UK Government will demonstrate its commitment to addressing Modern Slavery by seeking and publicising action against a high profile, well known organisation or brand.

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