UK: 1 year of company reports under the Modern Slavery Act - compliance & future steps

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Friday 31 March 2017, marks one year since companies started reporting under the UK Modern Slavery Act. 

Under the Act any company with a turnover of at least £36 million operating in the UK, is required to report on the steps they are taking to eliminate slavery and human trafficking from their operations and supply chains. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre launched its UK Modern Slavery Act Registry in February 2016. The Resource Centre actively monitors the release of company statements and adds them to its free and open Registry to allow comparison and benchmarking of companies’ policy and practice. Of the 1700 statements tracked so far, only 15% fulfil all three minimum requirements of the Act (however, this is a 6% improvement on 6 months ago). Many companies failed to provide any information on the action they are taking or be open about where the risks lie in their supply chain. Recent better statements from HP, Primark, John Lewis & Bettys & Taylors Group Ltd demonstrate clarity on risks, and increasing rigor in their efforts to eliminate slavery.

This story highlights items that relate to the anniversary of the Act, company compliance with its requirements, and future steps in efforts to eliminate modern slavery. 

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18 April 2017

Report analyses modern slavery statements of 150 companies; incl. description of issues identified through due diligence

Author: Ergon Associates

"Modern Slavery statements: One year on"

It's a year since companies doing business in the UK were legally required to start making modern slavery statements. This new analysis looks at 150 recent statements to provide a snapshot of what companies are reporting on their actions to combat forced labour and human trafficking, and how this compares to disclosures a year ago.

The report, Modern slavery statements: One Year On includes:
- analysis of the sectors, locations and sizes of companies reporting
- description of the due dliligence issues covered (policy, risk assessment processes, identified risks, training, performance monitoring)
- level of detail they provide
- who has signed-off reports and how they have been published.

The analysis is the most up-to-date assessment of how companies are interpreting the reporting obligation and therefore a litmus test for the effectiveness of the legal requirement. It also describes the main ways that companies are seeking to address the challenge of eradicating modern slavery from their businesses and supply chains.

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Download the full document here

5 April 2017

UK: Anti-Slavery Commissioner expresses disappointment with minimum compliance by companies under Modern Slavery Act

Author: Kevin Hyland OBE, Anti-Slavery Commissioner (UK)

"Letter to CEOs on Section 54 of Modern Slavery Act 1 year on", 4 Apr 2017

…[R]egulation is on an upward trajectory and the issue of slavery will remain firmly in the spotlight. Companies stuck in a mindset of ‘what’s the minimum I need to do’ are…putting human lives at risk…[and]…missing out on opportunities to use ethical business practices as a competitive edge.  Despite…positive steps forward since the Modern Slavery Act and a number of good statements being published, I remain disappointed that analysis has shown the quality to be weak overall.  Many fail to meet the minimum requirements...Even statements that do legally comply have a lot of room for improvement with many simply being reiterations of generic human rights policies…[C]hange takes time and I expect companies to be building on their statements year on year.  I want to see companies working to understand their industry specific risks…[and]…examining which commodities and operating regions are high risk and why…[whilst]…providing detailed information on what is being done to mitigate these identified risks...Many of the risks associated with both supply and demand are not unique to individual companies…Collective action is therefore vital....Now is the time for all sectors of society to act… 

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31 March 2017

Commentary: Could Brexit increase risks of modern slavery?

Author: Andrew Crane, Open Democracy UK

Brexit as a driver of modern slavery?, 29 Mar 2017

...[D]espite the advances gradually being made in addressing modern slavery in the UK, the signing of Article 50 is likely to worsen the problem…four main problems are evident…1. Brexit will increase the demand for modern slavery…Signing Article 50 may ultimately help stem the flow of workers into the country…But who is going to replace them? Workers from the domestic labour force will fill some of the gaps, but companies are unlikely to be willing to improve wages and conditions to attract…sufficient numbers. So there will be greater opportunities for unscrupulous middlemen to traffic…workers from overseas or prey on vulnerable UK citizens to force them into exploitative situations…2. Brexit will facilitate exploitation…Modern slavery often occurs when workers do not fully understand their legal rights and status…Article 50 will create a period of increased uncertainty around legal status that will be a significant boon to exploiters…3. Brexit will increase the supply of modern slavery…Modern slavery occurs when people are vulnerable, either because of legal status, poverty, mental health, or drug and alcohol problems…The more the UK puts up barriers to people entering the country legally, the higher the risk of traffickers bringing them in illegally and pushing them into debt…perpetrators are adept at escalating…indebtedness and creating situations of debt bondage. 4. Brexit will turn victims into criminals…Our research found that many victims of forced labour in the UK were prosecuted under immigration offences rather than being identified as victims…the chances of this happening will increase because policing around immigration status is likely to intensify far more than around modern slavery.

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31 March 2017

Commentary: Is it time for a Global Modern Slavery Agreement?

Author: Phil Bloomer, Thomson Reuters Foundation (UK)

“A year after the UK Modern Slavery Act, time for a Global Modern Slavery Agreement?”, 31 Mar 2017

One year ago today, companies started reporting under Prime Minister Theresa May’s ground-breaking legislation on modern slavery.  Our latest analysis reveals a small cluster of leading companies, including HP, Apple, Primark, and British American Tobacco, whose statements demonstrate a strong commitment to this cause.  But there is a far longer list of companies who have yet to begin…to even identify where they have risks of forced and child labour.  Nevertheless, a large number of companies have told us that this government demand for mandatory transparency has provoked substantial discussion and movement amongst bosses, and the impact of the Act, even with its punches pulled, demonstrates the power of collaboration between government, business and civil society…Something is stirring in the governments of Europe, North America, and further afield.  There is a rising sense that modern slavery in its many ugly forms…is no longer tolerable…But an existential risk is surfacing: if governments all unilaterally design legislation then companies could understandably complain that they face…perhaps, 30 inconsistent sets of national legislation to eliminate slavery.  But governments can and should cooperate to take the best of existing regulation and incentives, and set a common…standard of corporate behaviour…We need a Trans-Atlantic, or perhaps Global Modern Slavery Agreement.

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31 March 2017

UK: Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner reflects on 2 years since Modern Slavery Act royal assent

Author: Kevin Hyland OBE, Huffington Post (UK)

“The Modern Slavery Act Two Years On - The Fight Continues...”, 28 March 2017

Since the… Modern Slavery Act 2015…received Royal Assent…Specific companies have started to lead the way in responding to modern slavery…going above and beyond the requirements of the Act…The Co-op…developed an innovative project providing employment opportunities for survivors of modern slavery; the Chartered Institute of Building has driven collective action within the construction industry; and a number of companies, such as Carillion, are taking pro-active approaches, establishing steering groups to identify modern slavery risks, rolling out training programmes for employees and introducing agreements with suppliers to ensure all comply with the Act…[International]…progress [has] been…made…too…Since…efforts to secure…the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals dedicated to the eradication of modern slavery [were successful]… the international community has woken up to the scale of slavery, which thrives in humanitarian crises.  Preventing this brutal trade in human life is now an integral part of discussions among world leaders…[E]arlier this month, the UK hosted an open debate on modern slavery in conflict…[at the] UN Security Council…where over 80 countries acknowledged the need to address the crime. In addition, countries such as Australia are…considering introducing their own legislation on modern slavery…The journey thus far has included many successes…but there remains much to do, domestically and on the international stage.

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