Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Businesses called on to address modern slavery supply chain risks

Out-Law News | 01 Oct 2018 | 11:35 am | 2 min. read

Governments around the world should do more to require businesses to address the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains, the UN General Assembly heard recently.

The UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand outlined principles that they said other governments should adopt to tackle modern slavery in global supply chains.

"By working together, the UK and its partners can use their $600 billion of purchasing power as a lever to prevent forced labour in both the public and private sector," the UK government said in a statement.

The five countries called on other UN members to "work in partnership with business, workers and survivors to set clear expectations for private sector entities on their responsibility to conduct appropriate due diligence in their supply chains to identify, prevent and mitigate human trafficking".

They also said the government should "provide tools and incentives to the private sector to encourage meaningful action and public reporting of their efforts, including through programmes policies or legislation".

Governments can lead the way in combating human trafficking through their own procurement practices, the five countries said.

Governments should "analyse, develop and implement measures to identify, prevent and reduce the risk of human trafficking in government procurement supply chains; provide tools and incentives and adopt risk assessment policies and procedures that require their procurement officers and contractors to assess the nature and extent of potential exposure to human trafficking in their supply chains; take targeted action, including adopting appropriate due diligence processes, to identify, prevent, mitigate, remedy, and account on how they address human trafficking", they said.

In the UK, organisations with a turnover or group turnover of £36 million or more which are either incorporated in the UK or carry on a business in the UK must report annually on the steps that they have taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in their own business or in their supply chains. That requirement is set out in the Modern Slavery Act.

In the summer, the UK government commissioned a review of the Modern Slavery Act. The review will in part look at "what more can be done to strengthen" the corporate reporting requirements and "minimise the risk that the goods and services available in the UK are produced through forced labour and slavery", the Home Office said at the time.

In August, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in England and Wales reported that there had been a 27% rise in the number of cases in which charges were brought against people suspected of modern slavery offences last year.

Neil Carslaw of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, who helps businesses comply with their obligations under the Modern Slavery Act, said: "These principles encourage the enhancement of anti-slavery measures in public procurement processes. They differ from the UK's Modern Slavery Act and other similar legislation in that they are not focused on promoting corporate transparency, but instead on encouraging law makers to consider what anti-slavery steps could be required in public tenders. These principles are another reason why corporates should expect anti-slavery diligence in tenders to increase further."