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Modern slavery and supply chains: new measures for businesses and public bodies

Posted: 01/10/2020

The UK was the first country in the world to require large businesses to report on modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains, with the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA).

On 22 September 2020, the UK Government announced new measures to toughen the MSA to ensure that large organisations and public bodies tackle modern slavery risks in supply chains. The announcement formed part of the Government’s response to the ‘Transparency in Supply Chains’ consultation, which closed in September 2019.

The consultation focused on three main areas and the key commitments are as follows:

Contents of statements

  • A mandate of the areas that modern slavery and human trafficking statements must cover will shortly be introduced to encourage effective action against modern slavery. If organisations have taken no steps within an area, they must state this clearly. They will also be encouraged to provide a reason for this.
  • A new reporting service will be launched in early 2021 to allow organisations to publish their modern slavery and human trafficking statements on a government-run platform. This new service is being created to enhance transparency, making it easier to hold organisations accountable.

Transparency, compliance and enforcement

  • Organisations will be required to report on the same twelve month period (April to March): however, businesses will have six months to prepare their statements in time for a single reporting deadline of 30 September. This change makes it easier for external parties to monitor whether statements are up to date.
  • Amended legislation will require organisations to name the entities covered in their modern slavery and human trafficking statement. It will also require the statements to state the date of the board approval and director sign-off.          
  • Civil penalties will be introduced for non-compliance with the obligation to publish statements. A single enforcement body is also being developed in order to protect workers and ensure that employers are complying with the law.

Public sector supply chains

  • Public bodies that have budgets of £36 million or more will be required to publish slavery and human trafficking statements. Applicable public bodies will now need to report regularly on the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains. Guidance will soon be published to help public bodies establish whether they are captured by this requirement.

Both private sector businesses and public bodies should be mindful of these upcoming changes. The introduction of civil penalties means that non-compliance is more likely to result in both loss of tenders and contract opportunities, and public and key stakeholder reputational challenges.

If you require any advice and help in ensuring that your organisation has the processes in place to demonstrate compliance with these anticipated changes, please contact Chris Syder.

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