Interesting New Law

07 Aug 2015

"1(1) a person commits an offence if -

     (a) the person holds another person in slavery or servitude and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is held in slavery or servitude, or

     (b) the person requires another person to perform forced or compulsory labour and the circumstances are such that the person knows or ought to know that the other person is being required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

(2) in sub-section (1) the references to holding a person in slavery or servitude or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour are to be construed in accordance with Article 4 of the Human Rights Convention."

So says Section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. 

It's rather interesting to see the Human Rights Convention placed at the heart of brand new legislation. Perhaps the Convention isn't such dangerous socialist dogma after all. It's also interesting there's no territorial limit.

The operative section for businesses requires the publication of an annual Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement. You can't bury it in the legal mumbo jumbo which nobody reads because Section 54(7)(b) requires a link in a prominent place on the homepage of the organisation's website.

The statement will report on steps taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in the business or its supply chains. Organisations whose world view is limited to their profit and loss account may publish an alternative statement saying they aren't doing anything.

For the time being the government is allowing businesses a free hand to decide how to combat slavery and human trafficking within their own supply chains and organisations. Nevertheless it intends they:

  • implement policies against slavery and trafficking;
  • undertake due diligence within the supply chain to identify and manage the risk of slavery and human trafficking;
  • report on the effectiveness of their efforts;
  • include compliance measures in their procurement arrangements.

The act will take effect later this year for organisations supplying goods or services in the UK which have an annual turnover of £36M. Smaller businesses will comply voluntarily or through the trickle-down effect initiated by their larger brethren. For most of us the starting point will be to appoint someone to hold the brief for slavery and human trafficking compliance. In the absence of ethical trading teams that probably means HR. As always, I'll be happy to help develop your practices in this field.