Based on recommendations included in the report, ‘Building on the Modern Slavery Bill: Going Beyond Transparency’.
Written by Adjoa Kwarteng, Elle Sheerin, Charlotte Blackbourn, and Umar Shaikh from Supply Without Chains
Supply Without Chains is a human rights initiative comprised of four final year law students at the University of Warwick. Our report, ‘Building on the Modern Slavery Bill: Going Beyond Transparency’ can be downloaded here.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 received Royal Assent on March 26th. Part 6 of the Act, ‘Transparency in supply chains’, introduces a requirement for companies above a certain size to report on their efforts made, if any, to remove forced labour practices from their supply chains. This means that a company can simply report that they are making no such efforts, and still be compliant with the law.
Our report, ‘Building on the Modern Slavery Bill: Going Beyond Transparency’, launched three weeks before the Act was passed. Recognising the weakness of the legislative requirement, the report seeks to build on Part 6 by making recommendations for further action to ensure that the law leads to substantive changes in company practice. The recommendations we make are the key issues that have arisen throughout our research as the most important and feasible ways of ensuring that companies’ transparency statements are as effective as possible.
The provision in Part 6 adopts the model set out in the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010. We have spoken to US based organisations who have worked closely on the implementation and execution of the California Act in order to learn crucial lessons on what has been a success and what could have been done differently. This has enabled us to critically evaluate the best ways to supplement the UK transparency provision so that it has a real world impact on eradicating forced labour and slavery in supply chains.
In our report, we propose mechanisms in four areas to reinforce Part 6:
Section 1 addresses the issue of enforcement and regulation of company practice. Part 4 of the Act creates an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, whose role it is to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences (section 41). However, his powers are limited due to lack of funding and lack of real independence from the Home Office. We suggest campaigning directed at increasing the remit and funding of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner in order for him to have the role of monitoring and enforcing companies’ best practice, and the expansion of the role of the GLA to other at risk sectors.
Section 2 addresses the problem of the complexity of supply chains. In order to make a comprehensive and accurate transparency statement, companies need to know the labour practices occurring at all stages of their supply chains. We propose a focus on the quality of independent auditing, training programmes and effective regulation to ensure that companies can make sufficiently detailed statements.
Section 3 suggests the use of websites and social media to support the transparency statements. Following discussion with members of Know The Chain, the Californian website publicly declaring which companies are in compliance with the law and which are ignoring it (see here), we suggest a two-pronged approach to media platforms developed by private voluntary initiatives. The first enables businesses to compare their compliance with the law against their competitors, and the second takes a consumer targeted approach aimed at encouraging consumers to pressurise non-compliant companies.
Section 4 makes suggestions of minimum criteria for the Governmental Guidance that is to be published to supplement Part 6 and the sort of information companies should include in their statements. The effectiveness of the transparency provision largely depends upon this guidance and so we encourage as many responses as possible to the Government’s Consultation (see here).
The report is targeted at those developing ways of supplementing the legislation and ensuring it is of maximum impact. Our aim is to support a coordinated effort involving civil society organisations, consumers and Parliament itself.