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Review of UK modern slavery laws commissioned

A review of UK modern slavery laws has been commissioned by the UK government in a move that could lead to new obligations being imposed on businesses.

The review of the UK's Modern Slavery Act is to be led by Labour MP Frank Field, former judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, and Maria Miller, the former UK culture secretary, and is aimed at ensuring the "world-first legislation keeps in step with this crime", the Home Office said earlier this week.

'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 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.

The Home Office referred to the corporate transparency obligation and stated that the review will in part look at "what more can be done to strengthen this legislation and minimise the risk that the goods and services available in the UK are produced through forced labour and slavery", the Home Office said.

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: "The review panel will be conscious that whilst many companies have published a statement and have developed effective anti-slavery compliance programs, others have failed to produce a statement when required to and have taken no related compliance steps."

"Companies should be interested to see how far the recommendations go. Since the 2015 Act, financial penalties have been introduced under a similar Australian State law and a UK private members bill subsequently introduced before the UK parliament proposed that a failure to produce a transparency statement be considered during public tenders. The law and best practice guidance continues develop in this area and legislative developments should be monitored given the ethical, regulatory and contractual risks," he said.

According to Home Office research (38-page / 893KB PDF), the cost of modern slavery in the UK, which includes estimates of costs in relation to health services, victim services and police response, as well as in lost business time and output, is between £3.3 billion and £4.3bn a year.

The government said there are "600 live investigations" being undertaken by police and law enforcement agencies in respect of suspected modern slavery offences.

Victoria Atkins, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, said: "As this awful crime is evolving, it is our responsibility as citizens, businesses and governments to do all we can to stop exploitation. This independent review will help us identify what more we can do to tackle this terrible, global injustice by enhancing the Modern Slavery Act where necessary."

"It is clear some companies are leading the way but others are falling behind. I’ve asked for this review to look at if we should strengthen our legislation to ensure businesses are taking robust action to eradicate forced labour in their supply chains," she said.

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