While many think that we left slavery behind in the past, this is not the case. Modern slavery remains a current and significant issue that faces companies to this day. As you are a business owner, we must prepare you to tackle this.
Modern slavery is present in every single area of the UK. You probably see people trapped in slavery regularly. This often happens through employment, so ensuring your business follows proper legislation is essential.
Here we will look at what is modern slavery, who it affects, and how you can ensure that slavery doesn’t occur in your business.
What is modern day slavery?
Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. It covers a wide range of abuse and exploitation including sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced labour, criminal exploitation and organ harvesting.
UK law defines modern slavery in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 “slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour” and “human trafficking.” Under s2(1) of the Act, we define human trafficking as arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploiting that person.
Examples of modern day slavery in the UK
Examples of modern forms of slavery take many forms. Below are some examples where people will be victims of modern slavery:
- Human trafficking – where threats of violence, or other forms of cohesion, are used to recruit and exploit them for purposes such as prostitution, labour or forced criminality.
- Forced labour – where businesses or individuals force someone to do work, for little or no pay, because of threats of violence or other forms of cohesion.
- Debt bondage – where those trapped in poverty borrow money and are forced to pay off the debt through working.
Whilst you can work to prevent any instances of modern slavery arising in your own company, it is a lot harder to monitor this in your company’s supply chain, especially if some of these are based overseas.
Therefore, the UK has implemented a modern day slavery act, in the form of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, in order to try to combat this.
Does the Modern Slavery Act apply to my business?
What we outlined above sounds extreme, so you’d assume it doesn’t apply to you. However, it is a legal obligation for businesses that meet certain criteria.
Only employers who meet the following criteria must produce a modern slavery statement for each financial year: with an annual turnover of £36 million or more; who are a body corporate or a partnership; carry on a business or part of a business in the UK; and supply goods or services.
That said, the government encourages organisations underneath the £36 million thresholds to voluntarily produce a statement.
Organisations can produce these statements, setting out the steps they have taken to combat modern slavery both within their company and supply chains. The requirement aims to increase transparency in the business practices of large organisations.
The publishing of the statement allows the public, consumers, employees and investors to view the steps organisations are taking to help tackle slavery.
Modern Slavery Act statement
When producing a statement, you must include the steps you have taken in order to ensure there is no modern slavery in your organisation or your supply chains, such as refusing to work with certain companies if it comes to light that such arrangements exist.
Therefore, this is more than a paper exercise; you must take action and then confirm in this statement what action you have taken. If you have taken no action, specify this too.
It prompts you where the action is necessary. Steps should show improvement year on year to demonstrate practical progress. Law does not require you to make sure that no modern slavery takes place in your supply chains; just making sure there are steps to take if there are signs of modern slavery present.
The statement must contain the date it was approved, usually by the Board of Directors. The most senior person in the organisation must also sign it e.g. signed by a Director, or one person from the most senior level in the organisation e.g. one of the Board of Directors. The process should include the senior person where possible.
Modern Slavery Act policy
When publishing a statement, it is highly advisable to produce a modern slavery policy that outlines the legal requirements to produce a statement, how often the business will produce it, and where you will publish it.
You must provide statements for steps taken in a financial year, therefore it follows that statements should be created and subsequently reviewed nearing the end of that financial year. You must publish statements within 6 months of the end of the organisation’s fiscal year-end to which it relates.
You must review and update the report every year in line with the above timeline. This policy should be easily accessible for all members of staff.
Modern Slavery UK and the coronavirus
The Government accepts the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic may mean some businesses cannot publish their statement in line with required timeframes. In 2020, it therefore allowed a six-month delay to the normal timeframe for publication of statements.
Where an organisation delays the publication of its statement because of coronavirus related pressures, it must state the reason within the statement itself.
Who are common victims of modern slavery in the UK?
There is no typical victim of slavery. Victims are men, women and children of all ages, ethnicities and nationalities and cut across the population. However, it's normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable or within minority or socially excluded groups.
Spot the signs of modern slavery
Not only should you ensure processes are in place, it is useful to be aware of the signs. Either becoming familiar yourself or The signs aren’t always obvious, but there are some that you may notice:
- Do they look scruffy, malnourished or injured?
- Are they acting anxious, afraid or unable to make eye contact?
- Are they doing long hours, wearing unsuitable clothing or have the wrong equipment for the job?
- Is where they are living overcrowded, poorly maintained or are the curtains always closed?
- Do they behave like they’re being instructed by someone else, picked up/dropped off at the same time and place every day, or don’t have access to money or identification?
Following a consultation held in July 2019, the government has confirmed an expansion to the current laws on modern slavery, which will require more organisations to produce reports.
Public sector organisations with a budget of at least £36 million will now also be required to publish a statement. The government points out that many already do so voluntarily and is to provide guidance to help public bodies establish if they do fall into this requirement.
Statements will be required to cover specific topics and outline what has been done in these areas, such as providing additional training to spot modern slavery and conducting due diligence on organisations before using them in a supply chain. If no steps have been taken in any of these specific areas, organisations will need to outline why this is.
A shared reporting period is to be introduced, running from 1 April to 31 March in all years. Organisations will then have six months, up until 30 September, to prepare and submit their report.
It is currently unknown when this will come into force.
Need our help?
Ensure you provide a compliant anti slavery policy as well as keep transparacy in your supply chains. For advice on this, call our expert HR consultants on 0800 028 2420.