Modern slavery: Private Member’s Bill in House of Lords
A Private Member’s Bill seeking to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has been introduced in the House of Lords.
The Bill sets out that there should be a minimum standard of transparency followed by organisations and that not meeting these standards, as well as providing misleading information in statements published under section 54 of the 2015 Act, should be an offence.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015
The 2015 Act introduced a requirement for large organisations to produce a modern slavery statement each financial year. The statement will set out the steps the organisation has taken to make sure modern slavery has not taken place in their business or in their supply chains.
Organisations are required to publish the statement on their website within six months of the end of their financial year.
The requirement aims to increase transparency in the business practices of large organisations. The publishing of the statement will allow the public, consumers, employees, and investors to view the steps organisations are taking to help tackle slavery.
Minimum standards proposed in the Bill
This Bill introduced to the House of Lords seeks to give the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner new powers to enforce the ‘requirements of disclosure and transparency’ through the issuance of formal written warnings. This requirement would be the minimum standard that organisations would have to adhere to, covering:
- publishing and verifying information an organisation holds on the country of origin of the goods, materials, and/or services within their supply chain
- making provisions for ‘credible’ external inspections, audits, and unannounced spot-checks; and
- the reporting of employment agents acting for an overseas government.
Making non-compliance an offence
To assist in the enforcement of the 2015 Act, and naturally the standards proposed within the Bill, the possible offences laid out to the Lords can only be committed by ‘individuals’ and carry a fine of 4% of global turnover, to a maximum of £20 million. The offences are as follows:
- giving information that is ‘knowingly or recklessly false or materially incomplete’ – except where the error is corrected quickly after the organisation became aware of the false or materially incomplete information. This offence could lead to a two-year imprisonment sentence
- maintaining an ongoing business relationship with suppliers or sub-suppliers who ‘fail to demonstrate the minimum standards of transparency’ after having been issued a formal warning.
If this Bill is passed, it will hold organisations accountable on matters relating to modern slavery and hold them to more stringent enforcement rules. However, it should be noted that a Private Member’s Bill is not government-backed and such Bills do not tend to be implemented unless the Government gives its support.
Still, organisations under the obligation to produce a modern slavery statement should continue to do so. Although small organisations are not legally required to produce a statement, current government guidance encourages this.