Retail & Leisure

Since 29 October 2015 the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the "Act") has introduced a new requirement for large commercial organisations undertaking business in the UK to publicly report steps they have taken to ensure their business and supply chains are trafficking and slavery free. Large businesses are now required to complete an annual modern slavery statement for each financial year ending on, or after, 31 March 2016 in which their total turnover is above £36 million and publish it on their website (or provide it within 30 days of a request if they don't have a website). Currently there is no prescribed time limit in which to make the statement although the guidance provides that it is expected that the statement will be published as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the financial year and organisations are encouraged to publish it within 6 months. Failure to publish a statement may be enforced by way of an injunction by the SoS (although the risk of this occurring remains to be seen). In practice, consumer and commercial pressure are likely to be the drivers behind compliance to avoid reputational and brand damage.

However, a private members bill proposes changes, in summary: statements may need to be included in annual reports and accounts; businesses could be excluded from public sector procurements if they don't comply with the reporting requirements and the SoS can list organisations that need to comply with the requirements by sector.

What this means for the sector

Retailers with a UK presence should establish whether they currently fall or may fall within the financial threshold of the Act. If they do, they should be considering if/ how they should comply with their obligations to produce a statement.

Most retailers (even those falling below the thresholds) will want to be recognised as addressing the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking in their supply chain and so will wish to ensure that their compliance program is effective. Retailers may also be called upon to respond to queries and feed into statements where they form part of the supply chain for larger organisations that are caught.

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