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24 Feb 2021

Six years on: Modern Slavery Act failed to tackle forced labour


The UK Modern Slavery Act has failed in its objective to protect victims of forced labour due to the trifling level of reporting required from companies and lack of government enforcement, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) said today (25.02.21). BHRRC has now closed its Modern Slavery Registry after collecting five years’ worth of statements which revealed no significant improvements in companies’ policies or practice. While there is a welcome cluster of leading companies, the Act itself has failed to be an effective driver of corporate action to end forced labour, even in high-risk sectors and regions. Due to its ineffectiveness, the UK is now lagging behind its international neighbours including the US, France and the Europe Union when it comes to compelling companies to take action to tackle forced labour in global supply chains.

Thulsi Narayanasamy, Senior Labour Rights Lead, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “The UK Government said they will tackle the complicity of British companies in Uighur forced labour by enforcing the Modern Slavery Act. But the weakness of the Act means this would do little or nothing to protect victims of forced labour in China or elsewhere around the world.

“The Modern Slavery Act doesn’t place any legally binding standards on companies to eliminate forced labour and the meagre requirements on companies aren’t enforced. This points to a troubling lack of commitment to addressing these abuses. Tens of millions of workers are in forced labour – working in mines, on farms, in factories; to produce the everyday goods in our cupboards and wardrobes – bad businesses must be compelled to root this out of their supply chains.”

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased workers’ risk of forced labour. There is now an urgent need for legally binding obligations on companies – properly and forcefully implemented – that go beyond thin reporting requirements.

“To tackle modern slavery effectively in the UK, new policy options are necessary. New legislation should make companies legally liable for a ‘failure to prevent’ human rights abuses in their businesses, public sector entities as is now happening in Europe. And learning from the USA, the UK should impose import bans for goods suspected of being produced with forced labour. Finally, the Government must begin to uphold and enforce these laws.”


Find out more

Read the full statement here

About the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is a non-profit that tracks the positive and negative human rights impacts of more than 9,000 companies worldwide. In 2019, the Resource Centre took up over 600 allegations of human rights violations with companies, with a response rate of 70%. The Resource Centre has a global team of around 60 members based in over 20 locations in every region of the world.

About the Modern Slavery Registry

BHRRC developed and hosted the Modern Slavery Registry for five years 2015-20, collecting more than 16,000 modern slavery statements from some of the largest global companies, which are archived on the BHRRC site.

In 2020 the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre undertook an Audit of Modern Slavery Act compliance of over 16,400 companies on behalf of the UK Home Office.

Media contact: Priyanka Mogul, Media Officer, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, +447592156010, [email protected]

Thulsi Narayanasamy, Senior Labour Rights Lead, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, [email protected]