October 19, 2015

Am I a slave?

You might think that Slavery is not an issue that a modern British organisation would need to keep in mind.

However, the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which came into force recently, includes a provision to encourage businesses to take action to ensure their end-to-end supply chains are slavery free.

Organisations should not underestimate how significant this legislation may be. So how will this actually affect business owners and HR professionals? Here’s a quick guide.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 – What do I have to do?

Larger employers are now required to produce annual modern slavery statements.

The legislation introduces a statutory requirement to produce an annual “slavery and human trafficking statement”. Only larger organisations with an annual turnover of £36 million or above are required to do this.

There will be transitional provisions so that statements are not required where a business’s financial year ends close to the date on which the duty comes into force.

The Act introduces a variety of changes to UK anti-slavery measures, including the consolidation of offences relating to slavery and human trafficking.

Although there is a need for larger businesses to prepare an annual modern slavery statement, the legislation has a broader impact potentially affecting many organisations.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Many organisations, including small and medium sized businesses, produce ethical corporate social responsibility statements on various subjects.

This may now include their position on human trafficking and modern slavery.  However, this is not a statutory obligation.How important is the new law?

The new provisions follow a model adopted in California, where certain employers must post a notice that contains information regarding slavery and human trafficking.

Affected UK businesses will need to address how this is integrated into their existing risk management systems, how they undertake due diligence, their supply chain relationships and planning for appropriate Board/director sign off.

You should not underestimate this legislation. Not least is the potential impact on their public reputation, as this will be an iterative process every year.

The Government has promised to provide statutory guidance on how to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement. This is promised for some time during October but has not yet emerged.

Businesses that responded to the Government’s public consultation asked for the guidance to include “a clear steer on when a statement should be published, advice on where it should be published and ideas as to how modern slavery could be identified”.

What Should a Statutory Statement Include?

Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 states that the employer’s slavery and human trafficking statement might include information on:

  • Its structure, business and supply chains
  • Its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking
  • Its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains
  • The parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps that it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
  • Its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate; and
  • Have training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.

How can we help?

Since, this is commercial legislation, there is no direct employment law impact and the support we can give is strictly limited.

However, we have produced some model clauses that can be added to the equalities and diversity provisions in your employee handbook.

These are broadly based on principles developed by the United Nations and the Institute for Human Rights and Business (The Dhaka Principles).

You can use this wording to amplify good recruitment and employment principles and to set out your organisation’s opposition to people trafficking and 21st century slavery.

It does not, in itself, address the new statutory obligations larger businesses now have. If you trade internationally, or have a relationship with public services, the voluntary or charitable sectors.

It may also be useful if you are likely to be asked about your position in tendering documents.

If you would like this wording to be added to your employee handbook, you can contact us or call 0844 391 1921. For further information and assistance, take at look at our employers resources.

By Stephen Johnson

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About the author

Stephen Johnson

Stephen has over 25 years experience in private sector HR and management roles, working as a Manager for over 10 years and eventually moving into the financial services industry. In his current role as an HR Policy Review Consultant he develops, reviews and maintains our clients’ employment documentation. With extensive knowledge of management initiatives and HR disciplines Stephen is commercially focused and supports clients in delivering their business objectives whilst minimising the risk of litigation.