Modern Slavery: still a 21st Century issue

We hope you are all staying safe whilst weathering the Covid-19 pandemic. As society is starting to re-emerge and retailers are once again open for business there have been attention grabbing headlines concerning the industry. Stories have been covered spanning from the distressing closures of John Lewis and Boots stores to the booming revenue of online retailers such as Amazon.

With the industry’s biggest shift to Internet shopping, is there sufficient transparency regarding the supply chains of online retailers? How could this have an impact on you and your business?

 

What is ‘Modern Slavery’?

 

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 ( “MSA”) refers to the offence of a person holding another “in slavery or servitude” to “perform forced or compulsory labour”. Forced labour can take place in any industry, although historically manufacturing and retailer’s supply chains have regularly been scrutinised for their practices and working conditions. The MSA also refers to human trafficking as a person who “arranges or facilitates the travel of another person (“V”) with a view to V being exploited”. Consent by an individual to these practices is not an exemption from the offences.

 

How is the UK affected by Modern Slavery?

 

Antislavery.org states that over 10,000 potential victims were identified in the UK in 2019.

You may have recently seen in the media that UK-based online fashion retailer, Boohoo is commissioning an independent review of its UK supply chain following concerns that Leicester based factories, supplying garments to Boohoo, have been paying workers below the minimum wage – reported to have been as little as £3.50 per hour – and also failed to provide safe working conditions amidst the pandemic.

The allegations of exploitation have caused Boohoo to suffer sharp and significant losses in share value as well as major reputational damage as evidenced by their clothing being dropped from the likes of Next and ASOS.

 

How does this affect my business?

 

Since the MSA was introduced in October 2015 it has posed an obligation on partnerships and corporate bodies, carrying out business in the UK, with a turnover of £36 million or more per year to submit a slavery and human trafficking statement.

Although this clearly targets sizeable organisations, businesses that do not meet the MSA criteria can still be affected if they are part of a larger enterprise’s supply chain.

This is often seen in the following ways:

  1. You may be asked to disclose details of your supply chain and structure;
  2. You may need to provide Information about your risk assessment regarding human trafficking and slavery in your supply chain;
  3. You may be asked to agree to contractual obligations to comply with anti-slavery policies and evidence compliance on demand.

 

Next Steps

 

We have specialist commercial and compliance lawyers who can advise you whether you’re an organisation caught by the Modern Slavery requirements or a SME looking to get ahead:

  1. We can review and update your current slavery and human trafficking statement and anti-slavery policies;
  2. We can provide assistance and guidance in carrying out risk assessments and audits of your supply chain;
  3. We can ensure that you have adequate contractual protection from suppliers;
  4. We can advise you on compliance with any anti-slavery and human trafficking contractual requirements imposed on you;
  5. We can guide you in developing or improving internal processes to ensure compliance with policies;
  6. We can advise on investigations of potential breaches and the further steps that may need to be taken; or
  7. We can simply help you gain a competitive edge with prospective business partners and boost your reputation with consumers by drafting anti-slavery policies and a voluntary slavery and human trafficking statement that you can publish.

If you have any questions, chat to us at hello@hartleylaw.co.uk or 023 8001 5135.