Week of 21 September 2020
The UK Modern Slavery Act of 2015 will undergo changes to strengthen implementation, effectiveness and compliance. The UK Home Office has committed to mandating which areas statements must cover, making statements available on a Government-run reporting service and instituting a single reporting deadline to increase accountability and public awareness. It is also extending reporting requirements to public sector supply chains and will be considering stronger enforcement options, such as civil penalties for non-compliance (Home Office, Government of the United Kingdom)
On September 22, the Home Office of the Government of the United Kingdom published its response to a 2019 consultation on transparency in supply chains. Members of the public were invited to comment on a series of proposals to strengthen the impact of the UK Modern Slavery Act of 2015 (MSA), which requires large (i.e. a total annual turnover of £36 million plus, including subsidiaries) commercial organisations that supply goods and services and carry out business in the UK to annually disclose the steps they have taken to seek to address modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
In its response, the government summarized the key results of the consultation in three areas: (1) content of statements; (2) transparency, compliance and enforcement; and (3) public sector supply chains. It also provides conclusions and next steps for actions to be taken by the Home Office in response to the results of the consultation.
Background on the consultation and revisions to the 2015 MSA
In 2019, the UK government committed to strengthening the MSA in response to an independent review of the effectiveness of the MSA. The independent review identified 80 areas in which the law could be strengthened, including, among others:
- More autonomy for the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to hold government agencies to account on their performance with regard to modern slavery and take action to bring together different sectors and interest groups within the government and outside it;
- More consistency in budgeting for the activities of the Commissioner;
- Building more legal “teeth” into the enforcement of the MSA, for example by requiring companies to go beyond simply issuing a statement without taking any actions to address modern slavery in their supply chains (as the law currently allows);
- Making the six areas of reporting currently recommended by the MSA guidance mandatory rather than voluntary;
- Imposing stronger sanctions for non-compliance and proposing a separate enforcement body to enforce sanctions; and
- Requiring government agencies to report on their own efforts to combat modern slavery in public procurement supply chains.
The consultation period, which spanned July 2019 to September 2019, sought perspectives on proposed legislative changes to report on transparency in supply chains, including: “the areas statements must cover; potential features for the new Government-run reporting service for modern slavery statements; a single reporting deadline; civil penalties; the extension of reporting to the public sector.”
The Home Office received over 700 written responses to the consultation, including:
- “530 responses from consumers following a campaign led by Traidcraft Exchange and Fashion Revolution.”
- “The remaining 194 responses comprised 13% submitted on behalf of individuals and 87% on behalf of organisations. The responses submitted on behalf of organisations (including joint responses submitted by more than one organisation) represented businesses (53%), public bodies (18%), NGOs (8%), charities (4%), universities (1%), trade unions (2%), and trade associations/membership bodies (14%).”
The government also hosted a series of in-person roundtables across the UK with key stakeholders.
Commitments made by the Home Office
The following table is re-produced from Annex D of the report which provides an overview of the commitments made by the Home Office in response to the consultation.
The report further provides detail on all of the responses received. These included support for strengthening mandatory reporting, broadening the required six areas of reporting while allowing a stepwise approach to compliance, and allowing for more flexibility in what companies report. These also included support for publishing statements on a government registry, instituting a single reporting deadline and for greater enforcement of the law. Finally, there was support for requiring public entities to report, for using budget size as a threshold for public sector reporting and for allowing public agencies to report as a group.