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The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are 21 million people in forced labour in the world today. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 has provisions designed to encourage businesses to tackle slavery head on. Modern Slavery is a heinous crime that affects communities and individuals across the globe. The definition of modern slavery for the purposes of the Act includes not only forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking but also the exploitation of workers through low pay and poor and unsafe labour conditions.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was introduced in 2015 to introduce transparency in supply chains and to support, motivate and incentivise organisations to understand the complex issue of modern slavery and how to tackle it. It will no longer be acceptable for an organisation to say that it did not know about slavery further down its supply chain. By increasing supply chain accountability more workers throughout the globe will be protected and consumers will have greater confidence in the goods and services they buy.

From October 2015 all large businesses (those with a turnover of over £36 million) have been required to publish a modern slavery statement setting out the steps they have taken to ensure that their business and supply chains are free from slavery. If the company has not taken any steps to address modern slavery they would have to confirm so in their statement. The statement has to be published on a business’ website. It would clearly be a public relations disaster to publish a statement confirming you are not tackling modern slavery in your business and supply chains.

Since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act (the Act) in October 2015 it has become apparent that most large organisations now require their suppliers to be compliant with the Act as a condition of continuing to do business with them. Whilst your business may not fall within the criteria of the Act you should give serious consideration to ensuring your business is compliant with the Act as it is fast becoming a condition of remaining a supplier to large businesses.

There is no prescribed time limit in which to make the statement, but good practice would be to publish the statement as soon as reasonably practicable after the financial year end, alongside annual or non-financial reports or alternatively within six months of the financial year end to which the statement relates.

The modern slavery statement should include information about: • an organisation’s structure, • its business and supply chains; • its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking; its due diligence processes in relation to suppliers; how a business is identifying risk areas and how they are managing that potential risk.

Organisations should have a separate modern slavery policy which sets out how to respond to an incidence of modern slavery. In the UK it should be immediately reported to the police. If slavery is discovered abroad the response should be tailored to the particular circumstances in a way to produce the safest outcome for the victim. This would normally involve contacting the local government and law enforcement agencies and approached in.

Should a statement not be prepared, the Secretary of State may enforce the duty to prepare a statement in civil proceedings by way of injunction. Failure to comply with the injunction could be punishable by way of an unlimited fine.

Should you require any advice or assistance in ensuring your business is compliant with the Act or any other legal issues please contact the author Giles Ward at Milners Solicitors giles.ward@milnerslaw.com – 0113 3801 850/07789 401411.