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10 July 2014 | Gurjit Degun
The government has failed to require companies to report on supply chains in the Modern Slavery Bill, saying “legislation is not the answer to everything”.
This is despite recommendations from the Draft Modern Slavery Bill Joint Select Committee that firms be legally required to report efforts to eradicate slavery in supply chains.
During the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons this week, home secretary Theresa May was accused of ignoring people who are enslaved.
Michael Connarty, Labour MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, said: “The secretary of state has published a bill that goes in the right direction, but she appears to have ignored the fact that slavery that we benefit from happens outwith this country.
“In the supply chains of the goods that we buy, people are enslaved on a daily basis. The secretary of state appears to have ignored those people, so she has cut off the greatest power that the Bill could have to reach out and stop them being enslaved on our behalf.”
May responded: “Not everything that we think we can do to tackle modern slavery will be in the legislation. Legislation is not the answer to everything, but we recognise the issue of supply chains. We have been working with businesses. Many big businesses already take this responsibility seriously and make every effort to ensure that they do not see slavery in their supply chains.
“I was asked about supply chains in Home Office questions yesterday, and I made the point that companies have a social responsibility. Companies should consider their reputation as well as potential victims of slavery. We have held a roundtable with business. We are talking to businesses about the action that they can take to address the issue.”
She added: “We have already legislated to recognise the social responsibility of companies in relation to human rights in supply chains, even though this Bill does not contain a specific reference to supply chains.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that the Bill is “great opportunity” to build on the work of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. “We would like to consider how that can be extended to cover exploitation in hospitality, care and construction, and also how the law on exploitation in the workplace can be strengthened,” she said.
“Slavery in the UK is only a small part of the problem. The Joint Committee was clear in its recommendations for stronger action on supply chains. Other countries are legislating on that, and there is a growing consensus that legislation that requires large companies to report on their actions to eradicate slavery in their supply chains will make a difference.”