The independent anti-slavery commissioner is disappointed with quality of modern slavery statements that have been published.
In a letter to CEOs marking a year since the Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into force, the commissioner Kevin Hyland said many companies were failing to meet the minimum requirements of signing statements off by senior leadership and posting them on the company home page.
“Despite some positive steps… I remain disappointed that analysis has shown the quality to be weak overall,” he said. “Even statements that do legally comply have a lot of room for improvement with many simply being reiterations of generic human rights policies.”
The Modern Slavery Act requires all companies with a UK footprint and a turnover more than £36m to publish an annual statement outlining what it is doing to identify and address modern slavery in its supply chain.
The legislation on what these statements should cover is broad, but they must be approved and signed off at board level or equivalent, and must be accessible through a prominent link on the company’s home page.
Yet, compliance has been a recurring issue, and a study in September revealed less than 6% of documents ticked all the minimum requirements.
Last month a number of UK retailers failed to publish their statements before their deadline.
Hyland said companies that are “stuck in a mindset of ‘what’s the minimum I need to do’” were putting lives at risk and missing out on the opportunity gain a competitive edge though ethical business practices. “I expect companies to be examining which commodities and operating regions are high risk and why, and providing detailed information on what is being done to mitigate these identified risks,” he said.
The Modern Slavery Act makes the UK a strong performer on labour rights internationally, but other countries are also moving to introduce legislation. “Not only has it woken up businesses but other countries are now following suit with similar legislation,” said Hyland.
The French and Dutch governments have both recently passed laws, while Australia and Switzerland are at different stages of considering legislation. The French Duty of Care Bill, passed in February, goes further than the Modern Slavery Act and requires mandatory human rights due diligence.
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