July 16, 2019

Government to Toughen Up the Modern Slavery Regime

In the same week that the UK’s biggest slavery ring was smashed, the Government has announced a further consultation on toughening the impact of the Modern Slavery Act. The consultation is likely to lead to increased obligations for businesses.

On 5th July, 8 people were given jail sentences totalling 56 years, for their part in the abuse of more than 400 people. These vulnerable individuals were trafficked into the UK to work on farms, slaughterhouses, recycling plants and to renovate and decorate houses. The gang are believed to have netted well in excess of £2 million.

They deliberately targeted ex-prisoners, alcoholics and the homeless in Poland, promising a better life in the UK. In reality, some were paid as little as 50p per day for their work. Meanwhile, the gang lived a luxurious life of designer clothes and high-performance cars.

What was the Judge’s verdict?

Sentencing, Judge Mary Stacey said the defendants had subjected victims to a “demi-life of misery and poverty”. They robbed them of their dignity and humanity “without care or regard for the rights of the individuals affected”. She added that “the hard truth is that the practice of slavery continues, here in the UK, often hiding in plain sight.”

And that’s the issue the Government has been trying to get businesses to address since 2015. How could more than 400 people be forced to work and live in this way? Without anybody around them realising what was going on?

Businesses with a turnover exceeding £36 million are required by the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to produce a modern slavery statement. They must do this each year and display it prominently on their website. But the reality is that many businesses have simply ignored this requirement. What’s more, there are no financial penalties for failure to comply. And there are no rules around what a business must actually do to identify or eliminate human rights abuses in its supply chain. You can be compliant with the statement requirement even if it says you have done nothing and don’t intend to.

What’s coming?

The Government wants to toughen up the Modern Slavery regime. The latest consultation has a closing date of 17th September and some of the suggestions it’s considering include:

  • New online registry under Government control
  • Single reporting deadline each year for all affected businesses
  • New enforcement body with tools and sanctions for those that fail to meet their obligations
  • Bringing the public sector under the legislation
  • Specific themes against which organisations must report and will be measured – particularly their supply chain relationships

How will this affect you?

It’s hard to argue with the aims of the legislation. But the new rules look like they may require significant additional resources from businesses trying to grapple with the issues. Capturing the relevant data from a supply chain presents real challenges for all but those with the simplest setup.

Businesses with a turnover of less than £36 million are not unaffected. Already, smaller companies in the supply chains of larger organisations are finding that procurement processes are tightening, as those captured by the legislation seek assurances from their suppliers. This will only intensify if financial penalties become a reality. And a focus of driving change through the massive public sector purchasing machine will quickly filter through to small, private businesses.

Have your say

If you want to provide your views to the Government on strengthening the Modern Slavery Act, you can do so using their online form before 17th September 2019:  https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/transparency-in-supply-chains

Contact Moorepay

If you have not yet produced a Section 54 Statement, Moorepay’s HR and employment law experts can advise and assist you. To find out more, contact us on 0845 184 4615.

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About the author

Michael Farry