The fight against modern slavery needs to adopt a “name and fame” approach, according to one of the architects of the Modern Slavery Act (MSA).
Justine Currell, executive director of anti-slavery charity Unseen and one of the key influences behind the supply chain transparency clauses in MSA, said companies needed to be lauded for good practice and that naming and shaming discouraged firms from putting their heads above the parapet.
“The problem we’ve got where we want to beat business up is that [their] legal counsel will say, ‘Do the absolute minimum’,” she said.
Currell’s comments summed up the general sentiment at an event where the latest compliance figures for the MSA were revealed.
To mark its first year in operation, and share some of its statistical findings, the non-profit TISCreport held the event with its partners in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association room in Westminster yesterday.
TISCreport collects and collates the transparency reports MSA obliges companies to write, in a bid to track the progress of the act. Its first year findings include the revelation that more than half of UK companies that have had the statutory 12 months to publish their first report have not yet done so.
The very reason TISCreport exists is the light touch nature of MSA. Although there were discussions at the time, there is no statutory body responsible for monitoring statements.
TISCreport’s CEO Jaya Chakrabarti does not see this as an issue.
Describing her organisation as “govtech”, a start-up term for a company that uses technology to improve the work of governments, Chakrabarti said all government needed to do was give the market confidence to engage.
And so, while Chakrabarti has a list of all the companies that have not complied, she said it’s not her organisation’s role to name and shame.
Reflecting on the early days of the organisation, she said: “We were going to be sitting back and enabling everyone to come in and interact if they wanted to. But what was not apparent at the time was that there’s not enough awareness. And with the lack of awareness, you’re not dealing with an even playing field.
“Creating a business case [for transparency] has been much more powerful,” she said.
The procurement profession itself does think more teeth are needed, said Emma Scott, representation manager at CIPS. A recent survey of the organisation’s members found that more than half thought companies that failed to comply ought to be fined.
However, Scott was broadly in favour of positive reinforcement. “We found the best way to learn is from others. That’s been a slow burn, there’s not many people that have been able to stand up and say, ‘This is what we’ve done.’ Everyone’s been a bit cautious.
“But slowly and gradually we’re getting more and more case studies and more examples where people can learn from others.”
Peer-to-peer industry roundtables and smaller, sector specific discussion were where there was the most engagement, she said.
Stephen Chapman, anti slavery coordinator for the Welsh Government, also said small steps were key to engagement.
Chapman, who highlighted the implications of the need to his role to exist in the 21st century, said there was no big fix. “It’s these small events. Everybody looks for the big bang. What we’ve done by these small steps is we’ve got time to talk, to discuss with people and to support people, because we want to take people with us, we don’t want to leave people in isolation.”
The Welsh Government is on the forefront of the fight against slavery with its voluntary code of practice for ethical employment in the supply chain. The light touch approach was highlighted again as key to getting business buy-in. It starts by signalling that, as a big buyer, the Welsh public sector won’t tolerate labour abuse.
“As a country and as a government we recognise that slavery harms communities, it harms businesses. And what we’ve decided to do is we want to make our country hostile to slavery,” said Chapman, who has worked directly with victims of slavery.
“When you’ve been sat down with someone who’s been held 13 years, or 26 years, you understand it. What we’ve got is this multi-agency can-do attitude. We’re not going to tolerate it, it’s gone on far too long and we’re going to stop it.”
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