Slavery sense of obligation missing in agriculture

posted by Francis Churchill
15 August 2018

The agriculture sector is not taking enough action against modern slavery, despite being a high risk area, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has said.

Low levels of compliance with the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) and the poor quality of modern slavery statement showed a “lack of a sense of obligation” by the sector, despite it being one of the highest at risk of modern slavery, according to a report by the office of the commissioner, conducted with the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab.

The report “Agriculture and Modern Slavery Act Reporting: Poor Performance Despite High Risks”, released today, revealed that only half of agricultural businesses required to produce annual modern slavery statements under MSA did so in the first year the rules came into force.

This rose to just 64% in the second year of reporting, however as a number of these statements were for the previous year, only 44% were actually in date.

Under the act, businesses with a turnover of more than £36m and a footprint in the UK are required to publish an annual statement on what they are doing to identify and eradicate modern slavery in their supply chains.

Dr Alex Trautrims, of the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, said the agriculture sector’s heavy reliance on cheap labour meant it had a high modern slavery risk. “Nevertheless, engagement on the topic of modern slavery in these sectors is far less than one would hope for,” he said. “Only some companies in agriculture comply with the Modern Slavery Act and even fewer continue to improve, whilst many don’t comply and persistently fail to  engage.”

The International Labour Organisation places agriculture, alongside forestry and fishing as the sectors with the fourth highest modern slavery risk.

The report found that just 38% of those agricultural businessses that did submit a report in the first year were fully compliant with the law – meaning they were signed by a director, approved at board level or equivalent and published prominently on the company’s home page. This means that, in total only 19% of the agricultural businesses required to submit statements were compliant with the law in its first year.

The quality of statements was low and companies showed a “tick-box approach” and provided “only generic comments about zero tolerance to modern slavery with no indication of actions taken to address the issue”, said the report. It found 40% of companies did not describe any form of risk appraisal or identify any areas of high risk, and nearly 80% of statements failed to include anything on the effectiveness of their steps to address slavery.

The report said: “The findings are concerning: compliance with Section 54 [the reporting requirement] is poor in agricultural companies, despite it being a high risk sector.

“In essence, the poor quality of many statements indicates two issues: firstly, a lack of a sense of obligation to adhere to the Act’s requirements in Section 54, which points to the need for greater government enforcement of this provision.

“And secondly [it shows] a tactical response to the Act and the issue of modern slavery, demonstrated through non-substantive responses, a box-ticking attitude and minimal compliance.”

The report said the sector’s low compliance was in line with other high risk sectors including food processing and packaging, mining and hotels.

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