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Eversheds comment: UK Companies to declare measures taken to eradicate slavery and trafficking

  • United Kingdom

    26-11-2014

    Slavery and human trafficking are words redolent of Dickensian times, not the 21st century. But the reality is that they are global problems and the number of persons enslaved around the world continues to increase. There is a growing consensus that businesses can and should play a role in the UK’s fight against slavery and trafficking, given human rights abuses which exist in the dark corners of some UK and global supply chains. As a result, the Modern Slavery Bill has been amended to require companies above a turnover threshold (to be determined by the Secretary of State) to publish an annual statement, to be posted on the company’s website, setting out the steps it has taken to eradicate slavery and trafficking from its supply chains and its own operations, or to state if none have been taken. Tom Player, partner at law firm Eversheds, comments:

    “This will be welcomed by corporate stakeholders, including investors, shareholders, employees and customers, keen to see the private sector take a role in combating the growing numbers of workers trafficked and enslaved around the world. However, companies need help to make this happen, for example in the form of government guidance, given the potentially huge size of the task. Supply chains snake across countries, cultures and continents and are ever-changing, reflecting just-in-time resourcing and pressures on costs. The practical challenges around assessing slavery and trafficking risks and taking action in such circumstances should not be underestimated.

    “Companies that ignore the Bill’s transparency statement do so at their peril. While the Bill’s enforcement provisions appear weak at the moment, experience shows how quickly a brand can be tainted where it comes under attack from trade unions, NGOs and other pressure groups to come clean and address human rights abuses in their operations and supply chains. A poor annual statement, or none at all, will provide ammunition to campaigners. This means that, while the minority of businesses in this country are publicly stating how they tackle slavery and other human rights risks, the majority now need to catch up.”

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