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The Modern Slavery Act 2015: publication of a slavery and human trafficking statement

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was enacted on 26 March 2015 to consolidate the existing legislation on slavery.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was enacted on 26 March 2015 to consolidate the existing legislation on slavery.

Section 54, entitled “Transparency in supply chains etc.” will come into force in October 2015 at a date yet to be confirmed. This section will require commercial organisations, with a turnover in excess of £36 million and which undertake work in the UK, to produce a yearly “slavery and human trafficking statement”. This statement is expected to include a report on policies, training, due diligence processes and the effectiveness of the measures in place to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. It will highlight the steps taken by businesses during each financial year to defy slavery. Alternatively, the statement must encompass a declaration asserting that no step has been taken.

The term “commercial organisation” has been defined as a corporate body, wherever incorporated, that conducts business, or part of its business, in the UK. Universities may be covered as they are defined as corporate bodies in the Education Reform Act 1988 and provided that they are above the threshold of £36 million.

Statements shall be published on businesses’ websites and links to statements must be easily located. If a business does not have a website, it must produce the statement within 30 days following a written request.

In case of non-compliance with the law, penalties are limited. The Secretary of State can enforce section 54 through civil proceedings by way of injunction. However the possible PR repercussions or the effect on future business may be widespread - commercial organisations may find that a failure to comply with section 54 may adversely affect their ability to successfully tender for work, or to attract investments as they may breach “ethical procurement terms”* in contracts if the statement is not published. For universities, the PR issues associated with such a topic may be material and HEIs should consider how they address these issues in their own procurement exercises.

In preparing the statement, businesses should:

  • Understand the steps currently taken in organisations to tackle slavery,
  • Carry out a risk assessment to examine areas of the business that may be subject to modern slavery and trafficking,
  • Conduct a business and supply chain audit,
  • Understand how organisations can better engage with suppliers to obtain necessary assurances,
  • Verify that contracts include anti-slavery clauses,
  • Incorporate anti-slavery compliance in organisations’ policies and procedures,
  • Provide training to employees on the avoidance of slavery and human trafficking,
  • Provide training to PR and communication teams on how they should deal with queries in relation to a statement.

Universities considering themselves subject to the Public Contract regulations 2015 should consider the compatibility of supply chain analysis with the requirement to limit such consideration to the footprint of the contract.

*”Ethical procurement terms” are terms that prohibits breaches of the public trust.