HR Matters - Loosening the chains of modern slavery...

Published: 25/05/2016

While slavery was legally abolished in this country in 1834, it has not been fully eradicated. At first glance, it is easy for most organisations to dismiss this as a potential issue but recent criminal cases splashed over the media highlight how forced and slave labour is a growing problem within the UK.

To tackle the issue, the Government has introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the Act) which, among other things, requires organisations meeting certain criteria to publish an annual statement setting out the steps they have taken to eradicate slavery not only within their own business but also through their supply chain. See the table [opposite] for a summary of the Act’s requirement to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement.

With the publication of an anti-slavery statement, large businesses are expected to be more transparent about their operations in the hope that this will drive up standards throughout supply chains. It is envisaged that the legislation will have a cascading effect on smaller businesses to ensure that their own organisation and supply chains are slavery-free.

The Act has also encouraged many businesses to address their commitment to corporate social responsibility and brand protection, both in their workplace and supply chains. With this commonly landing upon the desks of HR professionals to tackle, what are the some of the key issues to be mindful of?

  1. While HR can assist with the preparation of the slavery and human trafficking statement, ultimate responsibility lies with senior management. It is therefore important to identify which senior individual(s) within the business are responsible for compliance and for taking responsibility for the organisation’s commitment to anti-slavery and ethical matters.

  2. HR should familiarise themselves with the requirements of the Act. The statement may include details about: the organisation’s structure; its policies; due diligence processes and risk assessments; its effectiveness in ensuring slavery is not taking place; and the training the organisation has delivered.

  3. It is recommended that the appropriate people within the business are made aware of the Act and what impact this has on their roles. For example, procurement managers should review tender documentation and contracts and consider including provisions regarding compliance with the spirit of the Act. Customers further up the chain are equally likely to require this from their own suppliers.

  4. Organisations are advised to know their business and to map out their supply chains to understand where labour is sourced. Particular consideration should be given to any risky areas to the business - such as contracting with businesses in geographical areas with a statistical high level of slavery; sectors where there is much low-paid unskilled labour; and where there is a high use of unfamiliar agency providers.

  5. It is essential to understand the warning signs of slavery occurring in the business and its supply chain and educate your workforce on what modern slavery means in practice. Most slavery is well hidden with many affected individuals being unaware that they are actually victims.

  6. It is advisable to develop your policies on anti-slavery which should contain action plans setting out the steps staff and suppliers must take in the event that they suspect or uncover slavery or forced labour. Staff should be trained in how to report modern slavery particularly as there is a real risk that police enquiries could be hampered if internal company investigations are not carried out correctly.
Forced and slave labour is an unfortunate reality within businesses and the global supply chain. As such, it is essential to take action now if you are a business which falls within the scope of the Act. Home Secretary Theresa May, in the guidance to accompany the Act, states: “it is simply not acceptable for an organisation to say, in the twenty-first century, that they did not know [about modern slavery]”.1

Even if your own organisation is not required to publish an anti-slavery statement, it would be wise to consider the cascading effect of the Act on your business as well as the significant risk to your reputation if any of your labour supply is found to be affected.

Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement - In a Nutshell -  can be found on page 7 of the latest edition of HR Matters.

Source:
1. Slavery and human trafficking in supply chains: a practical guide (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transparency-in-supply-chains-a-practical-guide)

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding the Modern Slavery Act 2015, please contact Laura Brown. Law covered as at May 2016.

This article is taken from our HR Matters Summer 2016 publication. Similar articles can be found in the latest edition.

People Finder