Close to a third of companies are failing to submit their modern slavery reports to a public registry, according to new research.
The Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) says a survey reveals 29% of “in-scope” companies are yet to submit a “modern slavery statement’ to the 2022 government registry.
According to CIPS the figures suggest that “momentum” in confronting modern slavery are “waning” among large organisations.
Changes in the law introduced in 2015 requires large companies to publish a report each year, outlining the steps they take to ensure modern slavery is absent from their supply chains. They are also “strongly encouraged” to submit their reports to the registry.
The findings from CIPS come at a time when supply chains continue to go through a period of intense disruption following the Covid pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
David Taylor, chief operating officer at CIPS, says: “Organisations are facing enormous pressures across their supply chains and, in these circumstances, it might be tempting to turn a blind eye to modern slavery and prioritise other challenges.
“But it is precisely during times of economic hardship that we must be vigilant and keep up our efforts to tackle this issue.”
Former prime minister Theresa May, who introduced the UK’s modern slavery legislation, heightened concern about modern slavery in recent weeks by criticising the government’s “small boats” policy for migrants crossing the English Channel, saying that “as it currently stands we are shutting the door on victims while being trafficked into slavery here in the UK.”
The Modern Slavery Act not only asked companies with turnovers of more than £36m to report on their efforts to check supply chains for slavery, but also created an independent anti-slavery commissioner. A new criminal offence of “slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking” was also part of the new law. They come with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Steep rise in referrals
The last annual report, 2020-21, of the anti slavery commissioner revealed that “referrals” of cases were up 20% to 12,727.
Though the Modern Slavery Act was seen as groundbreaking at the time, it has since met with stiff criticism, including claims that it lacks enforcement to ensure companies are compliant and focuses on reporting at the expense of challenging the root causes of slavery. There are also concerns that it provides “insufficient” protection for victims.
Perhaps the largest concern is that it has remained unchanged while other jurisdictions, notably the European Union, have pushed ahead with more wide ranging legislation.
The EU is in the process of introducing the Corporate Sustainability and Due Diligence directive, which mandates companies check their supply chains for human rights abuses and damage caused to the environment. Though this too has faced scrutiny. Business interests claim its scope is too broad, while NGOs argue its definition of what constitutes harm to the environment is too narrow.
Nonetheless, campaigners, supported by companies including Tesco, John Lewis and the Co-op, have called on the UK government to upgrade legislation to match the EU.
The government said in the Queen’s Speech last year it would refresh UK law, including mandatory modern slavery reporting. That legislation is yet to appear. The position of independent slavery commissioner also remains vacant after the departure of Dame Sara Thornton a year ago.
David Taylor says: “The government must appoint an independent slavery commissioner to continue to drive engagement, and modern slavery legislation more broadly. This data can be a vital resource to inform government policy and support procurement strategy for all of us. Currently, it is being ignored.”