Government to consult on slavery reporting rules

10 July 2019

The UK government will launch a consultation on transparency in supply chains, following recommendations made by an independent review on the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act (MSA).

The government said while it accepts the majority of recommendations presented by the review (the Indepedent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015), the consultation will “determine the best way to deliver” some recommendations.

It said the Home Office will now “consult on proposals to enhance transparency and drive compliance with the legislation” and seek “views on proposals to expand the law to cover the public sector and its vast purchasing power”.

As part of its response to the recommendations, the Home Office has written directly to the CEOs of 17,000 organisations which it believes are in scope of the legislation to provide “clear information to support effective reporting”.

It estimated that 60% of in-scope organisations have published a statement but added those that do not comply “risk being publicly named following an audit of companies”.

However, the government did not commit to sanctions against non-compliant companies or to remove the clause under Section 54 of the Act which allows businesses to say they have made “no steps” to address slavery.

It also said there had been a memorandum of understanding established between the Home Office and the new independent anti-slavery commissioner, Sara Thornton to establish greater independence for the role. 

The government was responding to recommendations set out in the final report on the effectiveness of the MSA as part of an independent review.

The review was carried out by politicians Frank Field (Independent), Maria Miller (Conservative) and Baroness Butler-Sloss.

In the report presented in May 2019, the review called for the reporting requirements of the MSA to be extended to the public sector.

The government agreed it is right that it should be subject to the same transparency requirements as businesses. 

This year, the government will publish its own modern slavery statement setting out the steps it is taking to “identify and prevent modern slavery in central government supply chains”.

It added that ministerial departments will be responsible for publishing their own individual modern slavery statements from 2020-21 onwards. 

While the report highlighted some public sector organisations which had voluntarily published modern slavery statements, the government said it would gather evidence of which organisations should be brought into scope ahead of any amendment to legislation. 

It added public sector organisations are already able to exclude non-compliant bidders from the tender process but the creation of a central registry, announced by prime minister Theresa May last month, would make it easier.

May announced the launch of a central registry of modern slavery supply chain statements which would allow consumers to “see exactly which companies are serious about stamping out abuses and which should be avoided”.

The charity Focus on Labour Exploitation said while overall it is clear the government recognises the legislation needs to be enhanced and improved, it has “missed some important opportunities to show real commitment”.

“We strongly call on government to run this consultation with alacrity, given the extensive input already provided on options for sanctions during the review itself. The government should announce a clear timeframe within which it will have completed this consultation and at what point sanctions will come into force,” it said.

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