Anti-Slavery commissioner publishes first report on progress made in last year’s fight against modern slavery and sets priorities for 2017

David Potter, Freeths, Nottingham

Background

Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA) requires commercial organisations with a total turnover of not less than £36m (including the company’s turnover and the turnover of its subsidiaries) to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year that ends on or after 31 March 2016. There is no prescribed time limit in which to make the statement but the Home Office guidance states that a commercial organisation is expected to publish its slavery and human trafficking statement as soon as reasonably practicable after the end the financial year and is encouraged to report within six months of the financial year end to which the statement relates.

First Annual Report Published

The UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland OBE, has published his first annual report earlier this month, which covers progress made in the last year in the fight against modern slavery, and sets out the Commissioner’s priorities for 2017. Mr Hyland found that the police recording of slavery as criminal offences was an area for improvement and that only 28% of referrals in England and Wales were recorded as crimes in 2015/2016.

In terms of steps taken by the Commissioner, the Commissioner highlighted that he has approached companies whose supply chains could be tainted by slavery to offer assistance to them and ensure that they are responding to the issue of modern slavery appropriately. In addition, the Commissioner wrote to Kia and Volvo to ascertain what actions they were taking to eradicate slave labour from their supply chains, following the much publicised Al Jazeera investigation which uncovered the use of slave labour at car washes in Kent, which are used by dealerships for big names such as Volvo and Kia.

The priorities for 2017, according to the Commissioner, will be to continue to engage with businesses regarding their commitments to end modern slavery, and to make progress in becoming fully compliant with the reporting requirements under section 54 of the MSA. Furthermore, Mr Hyland plans to introduce a clearer system of scrutiny and comparison for the annual slavery and human trafficking statements. Mr Hyland suggests that this will hold companies to a new level of accountability as the public and their competitors will be able to compare a corporate response to the eradication of modern slavery.

Whilst this all sounds very encouraging, the reality is that the MSA does not really have any teeth. Compliance with the MSA can be enforced by the Secretary of State by bringing civil proceedings for an injunction requiring compliance, but there is no financial penalty or criminal liability associated with a breach. Having said that, however, non-compliance could lead to reputational concerns, bad publicity and / or ‘naming and shaming’ by pressure groups, and it is hoped that this will act as a sufficient incentive for companies to do more to eradicate slavery and human trafficking within their businesses and supply chains.

Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner: Annual Report for the Period 1 August 2015 to 30 September 2016, 12 October 2016

David Potter
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