The UK government has announced proposed new measures to “hold businesses and public bodies accountable” for tackling modern slavery in their supply chains.
Under the proposals public bodies would be brought into the scope of the legislation. Organisations with budgets of £36m or more, including local authorities in England and Wales, would be required to report on the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in supply chains.
The government said the measures would harness the annual public sector spend of £250bn to “ensure responsible practises in supply chains and bring it in line with businesses”.
Under the changes businesses and public bodies will be required to publish modern slavery statements on a “digital government reporting service”. Former prime minister Theresa May announced the government was producing a central registry in 2019.
The service, which will be launched early next year, will “radically enhance transparency making it easier for consumers, investors and civil society to hold organisations to account”, the government said.
Key topics that must be covered in the statements, such as due diligence and risk assessment, would also be mandated by the government.
Measures to prevent slavery in supply chains could include establishing a single enforcement body to “better protect vulnerable workers”, which could include “civil penalties for non-compliance”. A consultation has begun on this.
Victoria Atkins, safeguarding minister, said: “Sadly, we know that no sector is immune from the risks of modern slavery which can be hidden in the supply chains of the everyday goods and services we all buy and use.
“We expect businesses and public bodies to be open about their risks, including where they have found instances of exploitation and to demonstrate how they are taking targeted and sustained action to tackle modern slavery.”
The measures follow a consultation by the government. The government decided against removing the option for an organisation to state that they have taken “no steps” to address their modern slavery risks.
Anti-slavery commissioner Dame Sara Thorton said: “While these proposals will go some way to addressing concerns, I do not believe that on their own they will clean up supply chains.”
In her annual report, placed before Parliament last week, Thornton said some firms were publishing compliant statements, but a “disappointingly high proportion are of poor quality”, highlighting the need for action to be taken to “strengthen the legislation and increase monitoring”.
In response to the central registry, Thornton said the work to develop the system was “progressing more slowly” than she would like.
Meanwhile, Baroness Butler-Sloss, a member of the Independent Review on the Modern Slavery Act, criticised the “very disappointing” response from the government.
“There's been an unduly and very disappointing response from government. Some [recommendations] have been agreed to, some have been thought about but the effective implementation of the Act is not yet achieved, and we're five and a half years later,” she said.
Butler-Sloss was critical of the failure to establish a central registry for modern slavery statements.
“They keep talking about it. They keep consulting on it. All we need is a registry, properly run with reports on the reviews of all the big companies, so you can see what it is they actually say they're doing. There is an urgent need for political leadership to push forward the essential parts of the Act,” she said.
Earlier this year, Malcolm Harrison, group CEO, CIPS, and Dame Sara discussed how firms could work to eradicate modern slavery in their supply chains.
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