Questions raised on how a business is managing human trafficking or modern day slavery in their supply chains are usually met with one of three responses: an appreciation of the issue and a statement that they are trying to tackle the problem; caginess or complete lack of understanding about the problem.
The requirement under Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act for companies to produce a ‘slavery and human trafficking statement’ on their websites is raising more questions than answers. Companies are responding in the same way they seek to answer any questions.
Some will tell us they are aware there is an issue and are tackling the problem by creating a roadmap of steps they can take to integrate a solution into their current processes, others are still cagey but working out what they can/cannot do. Many seem to be burying their heads in the sand and hoping the problem will go away.
We know that the Modern Slavery Act will affect any company that carries on business or part of a business in the UK with a turnover of more than £36 million. It is in fact a global turnover, so it can affect companies outside of the UK.
We also know that the Act is not limited to clothing, retail or the manufacturing business.
The questions we get asked a lot are:
- What is slavery?
- How far must we go down our supply chain to check?
- What must the statement contain?
- What if the company chooses to do nothing?
- Where do I start?
We have been thinking about these issues for some time and ways to help businesses with the challenge of doing more than simply stating they are going to ‘take no steps’. For example, our guide sets out the key legal requirements. We have a toolkit to help companies understand the requirements of the Act and develop their roadmap and statement. We have got training lined up. But the challenge on what questions to ask suppliers is something we have not always found easy. As part of a team working on developing the modern slavery garden, we have come up with some basic questions that we would like to share.
To answer those questions:
- The Act defines slavery or forced labour as holding ‘another person in slavery or servitude and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is held in slavery or servitude’.
- Our guide and toolkit’s address the other questions, other than the fact that if a company chooses to do nothing (and thereby be compliant) there is likely to be a reputational issue that they will have to address at a later stage.
- We thought it would be useful to provide a checklist of 8 questions as a starting point for companies (small and medium size or big) to set them thinking along the lines of supply chain risk. They are set out in this pdf:
If you want to know more about how to tackle these issues, please contact me, Colleen Theron, Director, CLT envirolaw at: firstname.lastname@example.org