Modern slavery: stats show businesses must not be complacent

Out-Law News | 18 Jun 2018 | 10:35 am | 1 min. read

New figures published on the number of reported cases of modern slavery in Scotland show that businesses cannot afford to be complacent on the issue, a legal expert has said.

Laura Gillespie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said businesses must carry out due diligence on the practices employed throughout their supply chains and that public and investor scrutiny of corporate efforts to address slavery is increasing.

According to a new report by the Modern Slavery Helpline (15-page / 340KB PDF), more than 200 cases of modern slavery in Scotland have been reported since the helpline opened in October 2016 - 172 via calls and 34 via the helpline's online form.

More than one third of the cases were referred on by helpline staff to the police and other authorities, it said, and of those cases the majority related to "labour exploitation".

The report said: "In total there were 82 cases of human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland reported to the helpline with 297 potential victims (PVs) of human trafficking and exploitation indicated across those cases, as there are often multiple PVs indicated on a single case. The Helpline made 78 referrals on cases of human trafficking and exploitation including 63 referrals to Police Scotland, 13 referrals to local authorities plus others to the GLAA (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority) or an NGO… Labour exploitation was the most common type of exploitation reported, comprising 60.9% of cases (50 out of 82)."

'Modern slavery' is an umbrella term which includes the offences of human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including sexual or criminal exploitation.

Enacted in 2015, the Modern Slavery Act consolidated and simplified existing anti-slavery laws, as well as introducing new reporting requirements for businesses. 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 now 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.

Gillespie said: "The numbers of calls to the Scottish helpline show the very real problem that the Modern Slavery Act is seeking to address. Companies should not be complacent to the risk in the UK and the statement organisations must make requires consideration of the risks in its business and supply chains, whether they are global or local. Due diligence is therefore key to addressing this risk. The expectation of the public and other stakeholders on corporates to take anti-slavery steps is increasing."