Government must ‘take tougher action’ on slavery

24 January 2019

An independent review of the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) said there needs to be tougher action to ensure companies are taking their responsibility to remove slavery from their supply chains seriously.

As part of an ongoing review on the effectiveness of the MSA, a report found that a lack of enforcement and penalties as well as confusion around firms' reporting obligations are the core reasons for poor quality statements and a lack of compliance from what is estimated to be more than a third of eligible firms.

Under section 54 of the Act firms whose turnover exceeds £36m must produce an annual statement on the actions taken to identify and avoid slavery in their operations. 

However, the report said: “It is clear the current approach, while a step forward, is not sufficient and it is time for the government to take tougher action to ensure companies are taking seriously their responsibilities to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains.”

The politicians behind the review, Frank Field MP (Independent), Maria Miller MP (Conservative) and the Baroness Butler-Sloss set out recommendations to strengthen the government’s approach to tackling non-compliance, including fines, court summons or disqualifying directors of firms.

The review comes as a report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) found that 70% of FTSE 100 companies were not reporting sufficient measures to tackle slavery under the MSA in 2018. A separate report found that more than 40% of the government’s top suppliers failed to produce modern slavery statements that are legally compliant.

Non-profit FLEX, which focuses on labour exploitation, welcomed the politicans' report and said too many businesses continue to treat compliance with this legislation as discretionary rather than obligatory.

Caroline Robinson, chief executive of FLEX, said: “Government must stop engaging companies in public contracts when they are in clear breach of the rules and it must introduce significant financial penalties for those companies that do not comply.

“However, the responsibility for ending exploitation above all lies with governments themselves. It is simply not good enough to leave action to prevent exploitation to business alone, government too must play a central role in efforts to end human trafficking.”

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