The Modern Slavery Act 2015: Enabler or Barrier?

The Modern Slavery Act 2015: Enabler or Barrier?

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The Modern Slavery Act is a legal act promulgated by the Parliament of the UK, which came into force on the 1st of October 2015 and which aims to tackle modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking related practices.

Modern slavery is a big and international problem that affects thousands of people obliged to work in unbearable conditions, and who often come from the weakest and poorest part of our society and have no means to defend themselves from exploitation.

Modern slavery related practices include: forced labour, child trafficking, debt bondage, sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation and domestic servitude. The consent of a person obliged to attend any of these activities does not preclude the determination of guilt of the person holding the other one in slavery or servitude or to perform forced or compulsory labour.

According to the International Labour Organisation, almost 21 million people are nowadays victims of slavery and forced labour, and most of them are concentrated in the manufacturing and agricultural sector.

Are you going to be affected?

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is addressed to large companies and corporations:

-          With an exceeding £36 million turnover

-          That supply goods or services.

It`s estimated that over 12,000 businesses within the UK will have to commit and adapt to the new legal requirements providing a detailed statement enlightening how they make sure that their supply chains are free from any form of modern slavery and human trafficking related behaviour.

The Act doesn`t reflect itself on UK based businesses only. Indeed, it affects any company having business relations and leading business activities within the UK territory, regardless of its formal allocation. This means that also non UK based and overseas companies could fall under the scope of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The limit of an exceeding £36 million turnover leaves small businesses and organisations out, but this doesn`t exclude at all a ripple effect on them, which could actually be enabled – inspiring them by what big corporations are doing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking related practises within their supply chains – to set up a voluntary anti-slavery policy and commitment.

What`s going to change for you?

 The mentioned companies will have to produce along with their annual financial statement an anti-slavery and human trafficking statement including:

-          An anti-slavery and human trafficking policy

-          All the measures, activities, documents and steps taken in order to tackle modern slavery within their supply chain (i.e. staff training to empower and enable suppliers to identify, recognize and tackle modern slavery related malpractices)

-          A risk register (companies will need to identify in which area and segment of their supply chains modern slavery related behaviour are most likely to take place)

-          Outcomes report (how did the activities that the business put in place help tackle modern slavery and how did they translate to long lasting actions?)

-          Supply chain description.

In order to enhance transparency the statement has to be:

-          Approved by the board

-          Signed by the director

-          Published on the company`s website and linked to the homepage

-          Provided to whoever requests it within 30 days.

This all means that the statement is designed to play a key and vital role in a business` commitment to adapt to the new Modern Slavery Act and is meant to enhance transparency around supply chains and modern slavery related practises.

Customers, clients, investors and stakeholders are really aware about how important is for a business to think and act - and be – ethical, and they want them to demonstrate their dedication to the cause and to show a clear plan for addressing these kind of problems.

A legal act is the first step in the fight against modern slavery, but is just a starting point: companies and organisations are the ones expected to take the lead on these issues and address the problems in a way that actually allows them to make a real difference.

When customers and stakeholders see a business demonstrating participation to the cause and taking sustainable and ethical actions that reflect in practice what their CSR policies are, they are more likely to show them loyalty and see them as new leaders. Acting and being sustainable can indeed build your brand reputation and enhance its reliability.

This is why we would like you to look at the new Modern Slavery Act not just as a simple legal act – another one! – you have to adapt to, but as a possibility and opportunity for you to literally boost your business.

We can assure you that by committing to the cause and committing yourselves to sustainable, ethical and modern slavery free sources you will see lots of additional benefits in the long run: of course sustainability requires a bigger effort in the beginning, but it`s important not to let the pressure be an obstacle for your business growth: sustainability does save money.

How does this all translate in practice? What do you need to track and monitor to make sure you are doing good?

Cooperation and collaboration are the key. You need to enhance your relationship with your suppliers and converse with them. Ask them what their ideas, needs, enablers and barriers are, ask them to declare changes in their supply chain, teach them how to identify modern slavery related issues and give them the instruments to tackle them. Furthermore, instead of setting strict prescriptions, be collaborative, clear and simple: set outcomes. In this way you will engage your suppliers and push alternatives and innovative solutions. Innovation improves your agenda and translates into an overall positive impact on society.

Last but not least: share what you do. Sustainability is all about sharing the same aim, working together toward the same objectives, and communicating positive results and outcomes to show that actually something can be done and done in a possibly better way: let other people, companies and organisation get inspired by the positive difference you can make for the world.

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