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Modern Slavery

May 2021
James Hutchinson and Jonathan Booton

Modern slavery includes the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation. It also includes holding a person in a position of slavery, servitude forced or compulsory labour, or facilitating their travel with the intention of exploiting them soon after.

The construction industry is vulnerable to modern slavery, particularly in the areas of labour and procurement of building materials and products. In its 2018 report on modern slavery within the UK construction industry, the Chartered Institute of Building said:

“Construction is a high risk industry. It has similar challenges to food production, agriculture and hospitality: widespread use of agency workers; a reliance on migrant labour; a large proportion of the workforce close to minimum wage. We do not yet fully understand the extent to which modern slavery and human trafficking are affecting our sector, but a picture is emerging that is uncomfortable to say the least.”

Depending on the type of organisation you operate, your organisation may be caught by the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act requires certain organisations to produce a statement each year setting out the steps they have taken to ensure that their organisation and supply chains are slavery free. The purpose of this is for organisations to acknowledge that they have a responsibility and role to play.

What organisations are affected?

Under section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, a commercial organisation must publish an annual Modern Slavery Statement if all the following apply:

  • It is a body corporate or a partnership, wherever incorporated or formed;
  • It carries on a business, or part of a business, in the UK;
  • It supplies goods or services; and
  • It has an annual turnover of £36 million or more.

What is a Transparency Statement?

It is a document that should set out what measures the organisation has taken to ensure that there is no modern slavery in its supply chains or its own business and must be published every year. It should include information about its policies and supply chains.

What should a Transparency Statement include?

The Home Office’s statutory guidance recommends that the Statement should be written in simple language to ensure that it is easily accessible to everyone, succinct but cover all the relevant points and link to relevant publications, documents or policies. It also recommends that organisations cover the following six areas in the statement:

  • Organisation structure and supply chains;
  • Policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
  • Due diligence processes;
  • Risk assessment and management;
  • Key performance indicators to measure effectiveness of steps being taken; and
  • Training on modern slavery and trafficking.

Smaller organisations

Where an organisation does not meet the requirements set out in section 54 of the Act, they can produce a Transparency Statement voluntarily. Although smaller organisations may not have a statutory obligation they should bear in mind that clients may impose an obligation to provide one in their contract. Clients may also ask for a copy during a procurement exercise.

Recent changes or forthcoming developments?

Reporting during the pandemic

As a result of COVID-19 it was acknowledged by the UK government that reporting and publishing slavery and human trafficking statements under section 54 of the Act within the usual timeframes may have been affected. The Home Office outlined that a business which needed to delay the publication of its Statement by up to six months due to COVID-19-related pressures would not be penalised, but it should state the reason for any delay in the Statement.

Home Office register

The Home Office has launched the Modern Slavery Statement Registry to make it easier for people to find Statements – Organisations can add their most recent Statements to the Registry. For organisations minded to sign up, they should bear in mind that certain basic information will need to be provided about the organisation when submitting the Statement.

Changes to section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act

Recently the government published its response to a Home Office consultation, which proposed changes to section 54 of the Act (when parliamentary time allows). This includes potential changes to the contents of Statements, a single reporting deadline, mandatory register, clarity and accountability including signing off, enforcement and extension to public bodies.

New principles globally

In September 2018, the UK government, working with other governments around the world announced that it has agreed four high-level principles to tackle modern slavery in global supply chains. The principles were announced at the UN General Assembly and aim to tackle the issue in both public and private sector procurement supply chains. These include:

  • Steps to prevent and address human trafficking in government procurement practices;
  • Encourage the private sector to prevent and address human trafficking in its supply chains;
  • Advance responsible recruitment policies and practices; and
  • Strive for harmonisation.

How can we help

Given the nature of modern supply chains compliance can be difficult. We have experience of advising a wide range of clients with complex supply chains and would be happy to help your organisation. We can assist with:

  • Advising on anti-slavery and anti-human trafficking policies for your organisation.
  • Reviewing and amending standard terms and contracts to cover anti-slavery and anti-human trafficking provisions and impose obligations on supply chains.
  • Advising on Transparency Statements.
  • Advising boards of directors.
  • Modern slavery and corporate governance training.
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