Suella Braverman (second from the right) is home secretary for the UK © Photo by Jack Hill via WPA Pool/Getty Images
Suella Braverman (second from the right) is home secretary for the UK © Photo by Jack Hill via WPA Pool/Getty Images

Why are firms 'deprioritising' modern slavery commitments?

3 April 2023

Firms are deprioritising modern slavery and being tempted to "turn a blind eye" to their responsibilities, despite clear regulatory and ethical obligations, according to CIPS.

In 2022, less than a third of the businesses required to submit modern slavery statements did so, according to analysis by CIPS.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires businesses with a turnover of more than £36m a year to publish annual statements outlining the steps they are taking to address slavery in supply chains. All organisations are “strongly encouraged” to submit statements to a Home Office registry, which was established in 2021. 

But just 29% of eligible businesses returned their statements, while of those that were submitted, nearly a quarter lacked basic information about the steps being taken to address modern slavery.

Overall, 23% failed to outline any measurable goals.

According to CIPS, supply chain pressures may be leading to firms to “de-prioritise” modern slavery initiatives, as businesses battle record level inflation and global disruptions.

David Taylor, chief operating officer at CIPS said: "Organisations are facing enormous pressures across their supply chains and, in these circumstances, it might be tempting to turn a blind eye to modern slavery and prioritise other challenges. But it is precisely during times of economic hardship that we must be vigilant and keep up our efforts to tackle this issue.”

He added: “It is an open secret that vulnerable adults and children are exploited every day to produce the goods and services we consume. These people may be many hundreds of miles away, working many tiers down our supply chain but, as professionals and consumers, they are still our responsibility.”

The news comes as the government’s independent anti slavery commissioner role continues to remain unfilled.

The post has been vacant for nearly a year. This is despite it being a legal mandate and mounting pressure from MPs to fill the role.

Taylor said the government must make good on this appointment to ensure firms submit their slavery statements.

“This data can be a vital resource to inform government policy and support procurement strategy for all of us. Currently, it is being ignored,” Taylor added.

As of February 2023, 8,074 anti-slavery statements had been submitted for 2022, down by 46%, compared to the 15,019 statements submitted for 2021. 

Dame Sara Thornton, former independent anti-slavery commissioner and professor of modern slavery policy at Nottingham University, said: “Momentum appears to be fading, as is the government’s position as a leader in tackling modern slavery.”

She added: “While we wait for new modern slavery legislation and a new independent anti-slavery commissioner, too many instances of exploitation, abuse and harm will be allowed to continue unseen. That is where our real failure lies.”

Further analysis of returns by CIPS found that it was the UK that was perceived to be the region at greatest risk of modern slavery abuses, followed by China and India.

CIPS said that without incentives from the government, organisations “will not go to the effort of submitting their modern slavery statements.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime and we remain committed to working with businesses to stamp it out. 

“The UK was the first country in the world to require businesses to report on the steps they have taken to address modern slavery in their supply chains. We have committed to introduce financial penalties for organisations who fail to meet their statutory obligations to publish annual modern slavery statements.”

The government is currently recruiting for a new independent anti-slavery commissioner, and said it is hoping to conduct interviews for the role in mid May.

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