Firms that have not complied with anti-slavery law should be excluded from public sector contracts, according to the UK’s anti-slavery commissioner.
Kevin Hyland, independent anti-slavery commissioner, said it was “simply unacceptable” that contracts are awarded to firms that have not fulfilled obligations under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA).
Hyland said in 2017 the UK government handed out contracts and frameworks to the private sector with a lifetime value of £220bn, around 10% of GDP, while local government spent £60bn on goods and services in 2016.
“The requirements government can make of companies which wish to bid for, or which win, contracts, can shape and improve business practices to reduce risks of modern slavery,” he said.
“I believe public procurement has a crucial role to play in the fight against modern day slavery and human trafficking.”
Hyland cited research that showed 40% of the government’s top 100 contractors had not met the basic legal requirements of the MSA, which requires firms to publish an annual statement, signed by a director and approved by the board, with a link to it from the homepage.
“This is simply unacceptable,” said Hyland. “The government should not be awarding contracts to companies which fail to comply with UK law.
“For businesses to fail on these simple requirements and the government itself to turn a blind eye is deeply concerning.”
Hyland also said reporting requirements in the MSA should be extended to include public procurement.
“This has challenges attached – namely training and resources to enable public procurement professionals to understand this work – but it should also be viewed as an opportunity,” said Hyland.
“British public procurement can become a leading example in the world, helping to ensure workers are protected on our shores and throughout the global supply chains on which we rely.”
Hyland said there were examples of positive practice, including the piloting of a risk assessment tool by the UK government and the Welsh Government’s ethical code of practice.
Hyland called on the government to go further with new policy ideas by following the US’s example and prohibiting contractors from engaging in practices related to human trafficking such as the confiscation of identity documents and recruitment fees. The Norwegian government has regulations that limit the number of layers in supply chains for its cleaning and construction contracts.
“It is clear that public procurement could be a powerful tool in the fight against modern slavery,” said Hyland.
“Used well, it can help to shape a private sector which protects the interests of all workers and ensures the goods and services we use as a nation are not facilitating slavery or human trafficking.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.