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Knowing is Key: Unlocking the Modern Slavery Door

Liz Minshall
Mar 22, 2017

Modern slavery has become a growing discussion within the media, with new regulations implemented in late 2015 and Channel 4 recently covering a documentary on the topic; modern slavery is being exposed. The idea of slavery existing in Britain in 2017 can be hard to believe if you are unfamiliar with the concept.

Here at Valpak; we thought we’d ask Liz Minshall, who has been working on preparing Valpak’s slavery and human trafficking statement, some questions to help define modern slavery in 2017.

Q. Historically, slavery is quite identifiable. What does slavery look like now?
A. As you’ll be aware, slavery was abolished in the British Empire in the 1800’s but recently there has been recognition of a new type of slavery - ‘modern slavery’ This is defined as a combination of three key issues - forced labour, slavery and human trafficking – in simple terms it is the way in which people treat other people as commodities, trading and using them without concern for their wellbeing.

In the UK, it is estimated that nearly 12,000 people live in conditions of modern slavery; in 2014 there were 2,340 reported cases, and this number is on the rise. Recent cases include staff forced to work through retention of ID documents and the requirement to pay ‘fees’ for accommodation and transport to the UK. Although individuals might not come into a situation where someone is working under modern slavery conditions, it’s important to be aware that it is happening.  Victims are often isolated and reluctant to seek help through fear,  so if you do think you’ve seen a situation that doesn’t seem right, you can contact the Government helpline where you can report your concerns.

Q. What is the Government doing about this?
In recognition of the issue of modern slavery the Government produced the Modern Slavery Act which came into force in October 2015.

The Act strengthens the powers to tackle offences relating to trafficking/slavery, providing a clearer definition of modern slavery, creating  new civil orders and an anti-slavery commissioner.  It also  provides for the protection of modern slavery victims from prosecution, and support for them to make a fresh start, in addition to forming court cases against the companies or individuals who employed them.

For businesses, the key change is the introduction of the transparency provision which requires certain businesses to produce a public statement on their steps to tackle modern slavery in their business and supply chain.

Q. Are businesses complying with this act?
A. Businesses have a responsibility under UK Law to ensure that workers are not being exploited in any way. They must ensure that workers are safe and that they are given an appropriate wage, working hours and aren’t subject to discrimination.  However, as we’ve seen through recent media, even companies working to do the right thing can find that suppliers and partner companies aren’t meeting those standards - whether here in the UK, or overseas.  In terms of the transparency element of the Act, there are a large number of statements now publically available which shows that businesses are responding.

Q. What penalties have we seen so far?
A. None so far for the slavery and human trafficking statements but it is still early days.  What we have seen is voluntary registers and also public reviews of statements.  For example the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre has analysed statements and has been fairly negative about the content of statements, stating that many were missing the opportunity to provide much needed leadership to eradicate forced labour from business operations and supply chains.

Q. I imagine that well intentioned corporations could get caught out with having Modern Slavery in their supply chain. What can they do to get control of this?MSA---Demonstrating-Transparency
A. What the Modern Slavery Act has done is bring the issue to the forefront and challenge organisations. It does not require an organisation to state that there is no modern slavery within its supply chain, but rather it encourages transparency with the aim of making large organisations more accountable in order to drive up standards.

There are some key steps which organisations can follow to help demonstrate they are being proactive about the issue

  • Understand the business's current position and ambition – review existing internal policies and practices that relate to modern slavery
  • Understand the extent of its supply chain
  • Develop procedures to identify and assess risks in the supply chain such as desk top assessments, questionnaires, audits
  • Design and implement effective due diligence procedures
  • Ensure effective remedy and grievance mechanisms
  • Develop performance indicators
  • Provide training

Valpak can help businesses to meet requirements under the Modern Slavery Act through “TRACE,” our online data collection and reporting portal.

If you would like to learn more about Modern Slavery Act we are hosting a Supply Chain Transparency seminar on 26 April at our Stratford-upon-Avon office which you can book onto here.

We host a range of seminars and webinars throughout the year which you can book onto through our events & training page.

To find out more about our Modern Slavery Act compliance service, call us today on 03450 682 572 or complete our enquiry form.



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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this weblog represent those of the individual authors and not those of Valpak Limited or any other organisation.