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 was to encourage businesses to tackle issues of forced labour and human trafficking within their business and supply chain.
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 caught should publish their statement within 6 months of the end of the financial year to which the statement relates, and update it on an annual basis.
Whilst to date the government has taken a soft approach with regard to compliance it is upping the ante. Any organisation which is required to but has not yet published its latest statement risks being named and shamed by the Home Office if they do not do so by 31 March 2019 when the Home Office will undertake an audit of statements. The Home Office has been writing to the chief executives of 17,000 organisations that it believes are non-compliant to warn them of this risk.
However, organisations should not expect any individual support or guidance from the Home Office with regard to whether the requirements apply to them or how they should comply. Our experience to date is that in response to such requests the Home Office has simply provided a generic response, repeating its existing guidance.
Organisations that have complied 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 at www.gov.uk/government/publications/contacts-database-for-guidance-on-modern-slavery-reporting to receive regular updates from the Home Office on relevant issues.
Organisations who 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 section 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.
Businesses who have yet to act should therefore not delay in complying with their transparency obligations. Failure to do so not only risks impending reputational damage but harsher sanctions in the future.
If your organisation would like to discuss any aspect of the transparency requirements under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, please contact Sarah Ozanne or Anthony Hollands in the CMS Employment team.