London’s Old Street Roundabout, dubbed Silicon Roundabout, is home to some of the UK’s most notable tech companies ©PA Images
London’s Old Street Roundabout, dubbed Silicon Roundabout, is home to some of the UK’s most notable tech companies ©PA Images

'Very little guidance' on slavery reporting, says tech sector

8 February 2018

There are major variances in the quality and detail of modern slavery statements in the technology sector, a report has found.

The sector has a high level of compliance but the resources and the experience available to some firms shows in the higher quality of their statements, particularly with big multinationals.

This is according to the analysis of around 100 statements by techUK, which represents more than 950 UK technology companies.

Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 all firms with a turnover more than £36m are required to publish an annual modern slavery statement outlining what the company is doing to identify and eradicate slavery in its supply chain. 

Susanne Baker, head of programme, environment and compliance at techUK, said: “There’s a range of business types, business models and a range of experience and that definitely showed in the qualities of statements that we saw.”

Speaking to SM, Baker said firms with larger global supply chains tended to have better developed statements. This is partly because some are already responding to similar modern slavery laws in California, but also because “they are probably more likely to have though about these issues before and have the structures in place to respond compared to smaller SMEs and software companies”.

The report said firms considering themselves low risk needed to include more detail in their modern slavery statements. “We wanted to really take to our membership – even if you categorise yourself to be low risk that doesn’t mean there’s no risk,” said Baker.

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Awareness of issues around modern slavery was better in companies operating in traditionally high-risk areas, she said, but firms that consider themselves low risk are still under obligation to outline how they arrived that decision and what mechanisms are in place to ensure they stay low risk.

TechUK compiled the report at the request of its members, Baker said. “Many of our members will be in their second year of reporting and I think they felt that it was time to reflect and try and initiate discussion about what a good statement looks like. What are the qualities and elements that make up a good statement?

“If you actually look at the act itself there’s very little guidance… In lieu of that guidance there’s probably more onus on sectors to self reflect on how the sector is responding, to share what best practice looks like and to share learning and experience.”

The techUK report included a number of recommendations for how both the industry and government could improve the quality of reports.

It recommended that firms consider include metrics in their statement. Meanwhile, techUK is planning to start working with stakeholders to develop appropriate KPIs, including looking at what metrics are already in use by international organisations such as the UN Global Compact and the International Labour Organisation.

Businesses should also include more case studies, the report said, for example of where non-compliance was discovered and corrected or what whistleblowing mechanisms are in place and how they have been used.

There will inevitably be a reluctance to share cases where modern slavery have been found, said Baker, “but what we saw was that in the best statements there was a frank admission where they had found slavery and how they had dealt with it.

“We think that’s important to share experience of how to deal with these cases,” she said.

Recommendations for how government can improve the reporting process were also suggested in the report, including the creation of reporting frameworks with sector specific advice and guidance for firms with complex structures.

TechUK is working on an initiative with BT and Nokia to see how the tech sector can support the broader activity of NGOs and authorities tackling modern slavery and it is also convening a group to look at how to better audit recyclers and waste management firms.

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