Renewed focus on modern slavery statements
20 December 2018
The Home Office has recently sent out letters reminding organisations of their obligations to publish statements under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (“MSA”). The letter suggests various actions organisations need to take in response and indicates that organisations that fail to comply with their legal obligations risk being included in a published list of non-compliant organisations. So what should organisations be doing in response and what are their legal obligations?
Home Office action
The Home Office letter directs organisations to take the following action:
- Nominate someone in the organisation to lead the drafting of the statement (if reporting for the first time).
- Register the nominated person on the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Contact Database.
- Develop the statement by outlining the actions the organisation is taking to tackle risks in its business and supply chain.
- Publish the statement by 31 March 2019.
The letter makes clear that the Home Office intends to publish a list of organisations that have not complied with their legal obligations by 31 March 2019. While the letter gives the impression that the actions set out in it are mandatory to ensure compliance, they do not in fact reflect an organisation’s legal obligations under the MSA.
Under the MSA, an organisation’s legal obligations are to:
- Publish an annual statement setting out the step taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its own business or any of its supply chains in the preceding financial year. Alternatively, an organisation could state that no such steps have been taken.
- Have the statement signed by a director and approved by the board of directors (or equivalent management body).
- Publish the statement in a prominent place on the organisation’s website.
Although there are limited enforcement provisions under the MSA, there is a real risk of reputational damage in either failing to publish a statement or merely publishing a “no steps taken” statement. Organisations such as the Modern Slavery Registry and TISCreport have databases which are open to the public to search and verify whether or not organisations are compliant with the MSA. Campaigners, journalists and NGOs are also likely to “name and shame” non-compliant organisations.
This latest Home Office communication is a reminder for organisations to review existing statements or, if no statement exists, ensure this is addressed. Although it is not compulsory to upload the statement onto an online register, doing so will ensure visibility of an organisation’s compliance.
Further detail on the MSA can be found here.