Tackling Modern Slavery: Proposed Amendments

This article looks at the Proposed Amendments to the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 and how they would significantly increase corporate obligations and liabilities.

A private members' bill, the Modern Slavery (Amendment) Bill (the Amendment Bill) has recently been introduced in the House of Lords which, if approved, will impose greater transparency requirements on commercial organisations that publish modern slavery statements and their supply chain.  

What would the Amendment Bill change?

At present, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the Act) requires larger corporates to publish an annual statement setting out the measures they have taken to address the risk of modern slavery in their supply chain. Failure to do so risks civil sanctions (never used). The greater risk at present is reputational and stakeholder agitation.

The Amendment Bill proposes a number of changes to the Act, namely, the Amendment Bill would:

  • make it a criminal offence for a person (such as a director, member or partner of the organisation) who is responsible for slavery and human trafficking statements supplies information that is false or incomplete;
  • make it a criminal offence for a commercial organisation to continue to use suppliers or sub-suppliers which fail to demonstrate minimum standards of transparency after having been issued a formal warning by the independent anti-slavery commissioner;
  • impose a fine of up to 4% of global turnover of the commercial organisation, to a maximum of £20 million and/or imprisonment of up to two years if a person is guilty of either offences; and
  • increase the disclosure and transparency requirements so that commercial organisations must publish and verify information about the country of origin of sourcing inputs in its supply chain and arrange for external inspections and audits.

These measures would significantly increase the need for rigour in managing supply chains and the sanctions for failure to do so.

What are the next steps for the Amendment Bill?

Private members bills are notoriously difficult to get passed. The Amendment Bill will need to progress through Parliament before it can become law and it is highly likely that it will be scrutinised and revised as it makes its way through both Houses of Parliament even assuming there is sufficient parliamentary time available. However, whilst the current law is lacking in teeth, stakeholder scrutiny (press, lobby groups, customers and employees) are ramping up the pressure on businesses trading with regions where modern slavery concerns are reported.

Likely impacts for business

Reform of the current legislation is already promised by the government following recent consultation, and whilst it is unlikely to go as far as the proposals outlined above, we know many responsible businesses recognise the sentiment behind the Amendment Bill and are working (in some cases collaboratively with sector competitors) to bring greater transparency and oversight to their supply chains. Avoiding reputational harm and building brand value and attractiveness to myriad stakeholders are the prizes to be won for doing so. If you would like to receive updates with respect to the Amendment Bill's progress, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with the team below.

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