The UK Modern Slavery Act – what are businesses doing to combat modern slavery?

Human trafficking victim with a sign saying she's not for sale

Despite the UK Modern Slavery Act coming into force in 2015, there are still millions of slaves around the world

UK report finds that almost 50% of FTSE 100 companies do not meet the minimum requirements set out by the Act

The second annual report on large companies’ efforts to ensure there is no modern slavery in their supply chain reveals disappointing results. The report shows that only 57% of the FTSE 100 companies are meeting the minimum reporting requirements set out by the UK Modern Slavery Act. It also reveals Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury and Unilever as the best performers, with Hargreaves Lansdown, Paddy Power Betfair, Pearson and Worldpay shamed as the weakest. With the UK seemingly a long way from solving the issue of modern slavery, this blog examines why modern slavery is still a problem today and what businesses are doing to tackle the issue.

Why does modern slavery still exist today?

There is clearly no justification for enslaving an individual and it is illegal in every country. So why has society been unable, until now at least, to abolish modern slavery for good? It would appear that while some governments do not see tackling modern slavery as a priority, businesses are, be it knowingly or unknowingly, allowing modern slavery to continue. Here are just a few reasons why the issues of modern slavery still exists today:

  • Children are made to hide when an auditor arrives at a supplier’s factory
  • Governments of third world countries feel they cannot afford to enforce modern slavery laws
  • A high demand for extremely cheap labour, especially as retailers compete to sell their goods at the lowest prices
  • Victims are tricked into thinking they will receive reasonable pay and conditions, or have no choice but to submit themselves to slavery
  • High competition for jobs, again meaning slavery is seen as the only way to earn money

Three things businesses are doing to combat modern slavery

Businesses must do their bit to ensure help abolish modern slavery for good. Here are three things your business could do, with examples of organisations carrying out these initiatives.

Update your modern slavery statement every year

With Marks & Spencer coming top in the report for the second year running, it is clear that having a clear and up-to-date modern slavery statement will take you a huge step towards identifying and mitigating any risk of modern slavery in your supply chain. Businesses should be preparing, or have already published, their second modern slavery statement by now and while businesses with an annual turnover of over £36 million are required to publish a statement on their website, revised guidance on preparing a statement encourages smaller organisations to voluntarily produce statements. A modern slavery statement provides full transparency on your company’s supply chain, risk areas identified and efforts you are taking to carry out audits and risk assessments.

Carry out regular surprise supplier audits, especially in high-risk countries

When carrying out a supplier audit, it is particularly important that the supplier is not expecting you. In 2014, following reports of poor working conditions linked to its shrimp, prawn and pet food products, Nestlé investigated working conditions at Thai production sites of its supply chain. The study, published in November 2015, revealed that modern slavery and human trafficking are endemic to the Thai seafood industry and present issues for companies sourcing seafood from it. The report revealed many workers were recruited from neighbouring countries using deceptive practices and charged prohibitive fees, with working conditions often dangerous and requiring excessive overtime with no days off and minimal food. Workers’ wages were often withheld, as were their documentation, bonding them to the slavery.

Following the harrowing report, Nestlé committed to imposing new requirements on all potential suppliers, training boat operators and captains about human rights and to publicly report its progress annually. Initiatives such as this can positively impact an entire industry, raising the bar on labour protection and setting an example.

Offer jobs to modern slavery survivors

In a move to help victims of human trafficking, modern slavery and sexual exploitation, the Co-op is offering four-week work placements to survivors. The scheme is being supported by charity City Hearts, who will be working with the Co-op to create a matching scheme that will allow other businesses in the UK to support victims of modern slavery by offering them paid, secure and safe employment. While this new initiative from a major food retailer is not the only way for modern slavery victims to find work, it could indeed help thousands of survivors in the future get their life back on track.

VinciWorks’ Modern Slavery Act training suite

While it is important that all staff undertake training on modern slavery, companies often feel that different departments require different courses. VinciWorks has therefore created a suite of courses to suit the needs of an entire organisation.

Modern Slavery: Preventing Exploitation

This 20 minute course teaches employees about the Act and explains how they can identify signs of slavery in the supply chain. It uses scenarios that are tailored to different industries and can be customised to include internal procedures. Demo the course.

Modern Slavery: Practical Steps for Procurement

This 45 minute advanced course includes useful resources for ensuring your organisation’s supply chain is free from slavery. It can be fully customised to suit internal procedures.

Who should take this course?

  • Senior management
  • Compliance teams
  • Procurement specialists
  • Logistics teams
  • Any staff tasked with carrying out a supplier audit

Demo the course

Modern Slavery: Raise your Awareness

Our most recent course can be taken by all staff. The 10 minute course highlights the commitment companies have to modern slavery and, like the two other courses, is fully customisable. This shorter course will present important issues concerning modern slavery and how to prevent it. Demo the course.