New British Standard on modern slavery sets important benchmark for businesses

Out-Law News | 18 Oct 2022 | 10:57 am | 2 min. read

The first ever national standard on modern slavery has been published by the British Standards Institution (BSI), providing organisations with important guidance on managing modern slavery risks.

The new standard comes into effect today, 18 October 2022. It is expected to play a key role in helping businesses to adopt best practices and align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The standard provides organisations with guidance for managing modern slavery risks in their operations, supply chains and wider operating environment, which goes beyond the legal and statutory duties imposed on companies in the UK.

The guidance defines modern slavery as a set of specific legal concepts such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery, slavery-like practices and human trafficking. According to the BSI, all organisations, regardless of their type or size, have a responsibility to understand modern slavery risks to their business and whether they can be implicated as a result of their activities, products and services, and business relationships.

The sectors most often associated with modern slavery include agriculture, construction, events, domestic work, hotels and accommodation, textiles, warehouses, and distribution. However, it can be found in any sector and any location.

The risk management proposed by the standard involves the systematic application of policies, procedures and practices to the activities of communicating and consulting, establishing the context and assessing, responding, monitoring, reviewing, recording and reporting the risk of modern slavery on a continuous basis.

“The publication of the British Standard is an important milestone in the development of the UK’s approach to eradicating modern slavery and legislation that was once showing global leadership but that has now fallen behind the EU and others,” said compliance expert Sean Elson of Pinsent Masons.

The standard’s recommendations are general in nature, allowing for different practices to be taken by different companies and industries with different risk profiles and recognising that not every organisation will be able to implement every recommendation.

“The guidance on recruitment and employment relations, supply chain management and risk management will be particularly helpful to businesses”, said Rachel Trease, also of Pinsent Masons.

“The standard can act as a benchmark for organisations looking to establish or upgrade internal procedures for the management of global supply chains and investigating red flags or whistle-blowing reports.  However, we also anticipate future introduction of regulatory penalties for non-compliance with the UK legislation that don’t currently exist and litigation from investors, shareholders and affected individuals in much the same way as claims for environmental issues. In those cases, the approach laid out in the British standard will then become a ‘scorecard’ that organisations will be measured against,” Elson said.

The standard is not intended to replace modern slavery and related human rights legal frameworks, but to instead allow organisations to integrate these into their systems and strategic approach to operational risks. It is written in such a way as to enable staff members in a wide range of roles to better support their organisations’ drive to address modern slavery through prevention, identification, response, remediation, mitigation, and reporting.

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