The UK government (through the Home Office) recently issued guidance entitled “Modern slavery reporting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic”, which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-reporting-modern-slavery-for-businesses/modern-slavery-reporting-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic.This article sets out what the guidance says.
What is UK modern slavery compliance all about?
Under the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the 2015 Act), compliance disclosure/transparency requirements mean that an organisation with UK £36 million turnover that sells goods or services in the UK is required to annually publish a slavery statement demonstrating what they are doing to ensure that there is no slavery or human trafficking in the business or the supply-chain; this also applies to organisations based outside the UK selling goods and services into the UK.
As the UK’s official accompanying guidance on the disclosure/transparency requirements states, organisations must “paint a detailed picture” of all the steps that they have taken. This compliance obligation has now been in force since 29 October 2015 and many organisations who fall under it have already previously published their statements in the last few years. You can see a short film with background to the legislation here https://bit.ly/corderymsin10. The UK government’s recently updated online guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/publish-an-annual-modern-slavery-statement.
What is the UK government’s modern slavery and coronavirus guidance all about?
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the UK government has said that “it is essential that businesses continue their activity to identify and address risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. As well as focusing on the health and safety of their workers, businesses will need to consider how fluctuations in demand and changes in their operating model may lead to new or increased risks of labour exploitation”. To this end the UK government has set out the following specific considerations:
- “If a business needs to delay their modern slavery statement – the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic may mean that some businesses will not be able to publish their statement within the usual timeframe (for example if they have reduced staff capacity). Businesses which need to delay the publication of their modern slavery statement by up to 6 months due to coronavirus-related pressures will not be penalised. In their statement, businesses should state the reason for any delay;
- Addressing and reporting on risks – businesses will still need to report on the actions that they have taken during this period. Work to address new or increased risks may take precedence over previously planned activities and may mean that businesses are not able to meet the goals set in earlier modern slavery statements. Businesses should use their next statement to demonstrate how they monitored their risks during this period and adapted their activities and priorities in response;
- Addressing modern slavery risks – some workers may be more vulnerable to modern slavery during the coronavirus pandemic. Issues to consider include: (i) The health and safety of workers – it is important that the relevant local or national government policies are implemented throughout your supply chain. This may include adopting social distancing measures and paying statutory sick pay in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus; (ii) Supporting suppliers – businesses should prioritise engagement with suppliers, including paying for orders already in production where possible. Whilst some previously placed orders may no longer be required, late cancellations can lead to workers not receiving wages for work they have completed; (iii) Grievance procedures – it is important that workers are still able to access grievance procedures and that new or adapted procedures are made available where necessary; (iv) Recruitment – some suppliers may be seeking to recruit additional workers in order to meet increases in demand. Businesses should ensure that they, and their suppliers, are maintaining rigorous checks during the recruitment process to ensure that vulnerable workers are not being exploited by third parties seeking to profit from heightened demand; (v) Emerging risks – in the context of a rapidly changing landscape, there may be new or increased modern slavery risks in your operations and supply chains. Businesses may need to undertake new risk assessments or reconsider the prioritisation of previously identified risks. As part of these risk assessments, businesses should consider which parts of their workforce may be particularly vulnerable and keep their Board of Directors updated on emerging or heightened risks.”
Whilst this guidance offers coronavirus-specific flexibility on the time for when to publish the slavery statement the rest is by no means a get out of jail card. If anything, the upshot of the part concerning addressing modern slavery risks is that there is more to do. Immediate things for a business to consider doing are as follows:
- Review your modern slavery compliance against this guidance, in particular assess and address emerging risks in supply chains – consider what resources you may need to be able to do this;
- Get modern slavery compliance on the agenda of the next Board morning – focus in particular on possible workforce risks (including who may be the most vulnerable) and any emerging supply chain risks; and,
- Undertake training – crucially, employees and suppliers need to know how to spot the signs that modern slavery may be taking place. We have provided training on this and we’ve made a short film about that can be found here: http://www.corderycompliance.com/spotting-the-signs-of-modern-slavery/.
Cordery helps businesses manage their modern slavery risk with our fixed fee Modern Slavery Action review – https://www.corderycompliance.com/solutions/modern-slavery-action/
We have written about the UK Government’s 2019 slavery report here: https://www.corderycompliance.com/uk-govt-2019-annual-modern-slavery-report/.
We have written about possible legislative changes to the 2015 Act here: https://www.corderycompliance.com/uk-modern-slavery-legislation-review-consultation/.
We have written about modern slavery and Brexit here: http://www.corderycompliance.com/brexit-and-modern-slavery-compliance-2/
For other articles that we have written about modern slavery compliance please see here: http://www.corderycompliance.com/category/modern-slavery/.
For more information please contact André Bywater or Jonathan Armstrong who are commercial lawyers with Cordery in London where their focus is on compliance issues.
|Jonathan Armstrong, Cordery, Lexis House, 30 Farringdon Street, London, EC4A 4HH
|André Bywater, Cordery, Lexis House, 30 Farringdon Street, London, EC4A 4HH
|Office: +44 (0)207 075 1784
|Office: +44 (0)207 075 1785