8 April 2014 | Will Green
MPs scrutinising the UK’s new anti-slavery laws want firms to be legally required to report efforts to eradicate slavery in supply chains.
The Draft Modern Slavery Bill Joint Select Committee has recommended a number of changes including amending existing legislation to require reporting around slavery, simplifying offences in the new bill to “ensure more convictions”, and introducing a review mechanism so legislation evolves as the criminal trade does.
The committee’s recommendations, contained in a report, include “requiring quoted companies to report on measures they have taken to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains, ensuring that goods and services sold in the UK are free from the taint of slavery and supporting those firms that already perform well in this area”.
The committee said the Companies Act 2006 should be extended to include reporting on slavery, including verifying supply chains to "evaluate and address risks", auditing suppliers and certifying goods and services bought from suppliers. It said this information should be published online.
The report said: “Legislation on supply chains does not have to be burdensome for reputable businesses to implement. Proportionate legislative action can ensure that firms no longer turn a blind eye to exploitation occurring in their names and can therefore stimulate significant improvement.”
MPs also want to see separate offences dealing with exploitation of children, the incorporation of victim care into the bill, including a fund for legal services and freedom from prosecution for crimes they were forced to commit, and a strengthening of the asset recovery regime.
Steve McQueen, the visual artist and Oscar-winning director of the movie 12 Years a Slave, supports the report. “There is much in the history of the United Kingdom in relation to slavery that our country should be ashamed of,” he said. “But one thing that all British people can be justifiably proud of is our anti-slavery tradition stretching back to people such as Equiano, Clarkson, Wilberforce and the Quakers, and carried on since 1839 by Anti-Slavery International, of which I am proud to be a patron.
“The authors of this report can honourably stand in that tradition.”
Frank Field, Labour MP and chairman of the committee, said the government needed to shift the focus to victims, which would make prosecutions more likely. “We must make life as difficult as possible for today’s slave masters and traffickers, and the position of the victims of slavery must be transformed. This must now be central to Parliament’s consideration of the bill.”