Contemporary thoughts on Modern Slavery

Ian Guest, Environmental Compliance Advisor, offers his thoughts on the Modern Slavery Act, section 54 and outlines ways in which Valpak can help businesses to comply.

Have you ever thought about why that deal you got is such a good bargain? Getting a steal of a price only happens when we know we are paying less for a product than it’s worth. How then is the company still making money? Where along its supply chain is it saving money? And, what or who is impacted by this, potentially negatively?

Most of the time, when something costs a lot less than we would anticipate, either the environment or people aren’t being treated appropriately. While the health of the environment has been at the forefront of conversations in the UK recently, human rights issues haven’t really been brought to the public’s attention in the same way.

Modern Slavery definition

Modern slavery, encompassing all forms of forced or coerced labour and human trafficking, exists in all countries, regardless of development. In addition to being difficult to identify from an outside perspective, it is frequently hidden away due to its illegal and unpleasant nature. These factors are compounded in countries without the pre-existing human rights laws we have in the UK; due to the far-reaching supply chains of big business we cannot only consider the problem locally. Because of modern slavery’s complexities, gathering data on how many people are affected, where and who the victims and perpetrators are, and how best to support victims can be very difficult.

The Modern Slavery Act

The Modern Slavery Act (MSA) 2015, section 54, introduced by the UK government to encourage businesses to eradicate modern slavery in their supply chains, is a step in the right direction and has good intentions. The Act asks companies what actions they have taken to tackle modern slavery. The government has also made progress in how other departments such as criminal justice and law enforcement tackle the problems as they appear within their spheres of influence, resulting in increased visibility of victims and their perpetrators. Other developed countries have also introduced modern slavery legislation, including Australia, where they plan on publishing a list of the companies who haven’t complied with the regulation, similarly to the UK’s plans.

Legislation review

An independent review of the UK MSA has been conducted over the last year, with interim reports being published throughout. Their latest publication reviewed definitions of offences, compensation and reparation protocol, statutory defence, training and awareness, and monitoring. It was highlighted that current definitions used will not capture new and emerging forms of modern slavery. The review recommends that careful attention is paid to the application of the trafficking definition, to ensure that it is not interpreted too narrowly. How the definitions apply to children was also heavily discussed, as a child is generally not able to give legal consent at all. This proves problematic when the definitions regarding modern slavery frequently use the phrase ‘without consent.’

Another issue arising in international discussions on modern slavery is that of phrasing. There is no one definition for the phrase and translations can be an added confusion. Additionally, the former director of Anti-Slavery International has highlighted controversies in using the term revolving around the shaping of peoples’ mindsets. A lack of international communication and collaboration makes eradicating modern slavery, and the associated human rights breaches, much harder.

Supply chain transparency – Valpak can help

Supply chain transparency is a crucial component in training, awareness and monitoring, to ensure that sustainable practices for both people and the environment are being implemented – from extracting or harvesting a resource, to the consumer purchasing a product.

There are many difficulties in tackling this; however, one place to start is through data collection down the supply chain; finding out what policies and procedures are in place every step of the process can help identify high risk suppliers.

One way to accomplish this is by using a system such as Valpak’s Insight Platformwhere we will centralise the data collection and management processes.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you to ensure your business is compliant with the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act, we are hosting support sessions, in June, at our office in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Alternatively, please give us a call to discuss your business’s operations and requirements with one of our expert advisors on 03450 682 572.