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Modern Slavery Act: new requirement comes into force today

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidates criminal offences relating to human trafficking, forced labour and slavery. It also requires large commercial organisations to report on the steps they are taking to ensure their business is slavery-free. 

The requirement to produce a slavery and human trafficking statement comes into force today for large businesses with financial years ending on or after 31 March 2016. This means that the time to take action is now.

Which organisations are affected? 

Commercial organisations that supply goods or services and have a turnover of over £36 million are directly affected. These organisations need only have a part of their business in the UK to fall within the Act, and can be corporate entities or partnerships, whether operated for profit or not.

What do they have to do?

In order to demonstrate their transparency, organisations must prepare a statement to be published each financial year on their website, with a prominent link to it on the main home page. 

This requirement comes into force today, and applies to businesses with financial years ending on or after 31 March 2016. This means that organisations whose current financial year ends before 31 March 2016 will not have to publish a statement for that financial year. 

The statement must detail:

"The steps the organisation has taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains and in any part of its business."

The Act suggests that this may include: 

  • Information about the organisation's structure, its business and its supply chains.
  • Its policies in relation to slavery and human-trafficking.
  • Its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains.
  • The parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk.
  • Its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate.
  • The training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.

As an unpalatable alternative, organisations can instead make a 'nil statement' that they have not taken any of these steps.

Reputational damage aside, production of the statement is enforceable by injunction (or, in Scotland, by specific performance of a statutory duty).

The Act places particular emphasis on the investigation of supply chains as it has been identified as an area in which many organisations may unknowingly support crimes related to slavery. 

Please note that expected statutory guidance is yet to be issued. 

Steps to take

The statement itself represents only the tip of the iceberg here; we suggest that organisations should consider: 

  • undertaking a full policy review of supply chains and other vulnerable areas of the organisation such as recruitment;
  • assigning responsibility to key personnel throughout the organisation;
  • providing training to staff regarding human trafficking and slavery in a modern context;
  • establishing a whistle-blowing hotline.

An opportunity for organisations not affected? 

There can be little doubt that public and government attention will be focussed on the responsibility that businesses have in combating slavery. 

With corporate responsibility being high on customer agendas, voluntary reporting by organisations that fall outside of the scope of the Act might well be viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate ethical credentials.

We are happy to assist you in your preparations. Please contact us if you would like to discuss how this affects your business. 

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at October 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions on www.TLTsolicitors.com

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