The Modern Slavery Act 2015 became law on 26 March 2015, with a ‘supply chain clause’ being added to the bills to force businesses to make public their efforts to stop the use of slave labour by its suppliers.
Since 29 October 2015, the Transparency in Supply Chain Provisions requires businesses to publish an annual statement if they have an annual turnover above £36 million. The statement must confirm the steps taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in the business or in any supply chain.
On 21 March 2016, the Home Office held a Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) event where an independent civil society modern slavery register, the TISC Report, was announced in order to provide a publicly searchable, accessible registry for companies to share their statements.
What are the legal obligations under the act?
The Modern Slavery Act makes it a criminal offence for a person or organisation to engage in any form of ‘modern slavery’ practices. It requires larger organisations (with an aggregate annual turnover not less than £36m) to publish an annual statement detailing the steps they have taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place.
The Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement (the SHT statement) must cover the organisation itself – including parts of the business not based in the UK – and also its entire supply chain. The SHT Statement should be approved by the organisation’s board of directors and signed by a director (or equivalent). A link to the SHT statement should be published in a prominent place on the organisation’s website.
In 2017 the CIOB collaborated with Stronger Together, an industry alliance, to provide a Toolkit to help construction businesses shape their response as they tackle modern slavery. The toolkit has been created for every construction business. There is no geographic or size limitation – organisations could be minor operations with just two to three people up to large multinationals.
Organisations which do not meet the requirements of the Act, for example by having a turnover below £36m, can still choose to voluntarily produce a ‘slavery and human trafficking statement’. Smaller organisations may be asked by those they are supplying goods or services to if they have a statement or policy setting out their approach to tackling modern slavery, especially if they are bidding for contracts with larger businesses above the threshold. Therefore, smaller organisations may find it helpful to voluntarily produce a statement as a means of managing these requests and providing a level of assurance to their customers. Even if the legislation does not apply, all businesses are encouraged to be open and transparent about their recruitment practices, policies and procedures in relation to modern slavery and to take steps that are consistent and proportionate with their sector, size and operational reach.
The Chartered Institute of Building’s campaign to tackle the many forms of bonded labour and slavery that exist in construction began back in 2014. Realising that modern slavery often starts in the country of origin of migrant workers, the CIOB examined the issue in their 2015 report Modern Slavery: The Dark Side of Construction which called for greater recognition of migrant workers and highlighted the plight made by millions of construction workers across the globe.
Operation Magnify, an enforcement initiative launched by the Home Office, targeted businesses that employed or exploited illegal migrant workers. The CIOB supported the campaign and cited that migrants without the right to work become vulnerable, and, as our industry tells us, are at serious risk of injury, exploitation and human rights abuses.
With its fragmented supply chains, opaque procurement processes and high demand for migrant labour, the construction sector faces a unique set of challenges in tackling human rights abuses. In consultation with a number of businesses and NGOs, the CIOB examined the root causes of slavery and set out priority actions for moving the industry towards greater transparency. Their report Building A Fairer System: tackling modern slavery in construction supply chains was launched at the Houses of Parliament and called on clients and tier one organisations to take greater responsibility for their supply chains.