Human rights

Modern Slavery Act 2015

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires businesses with a turnover of more than £36 million to publicly report on the steps they’re taking to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. The UK was the first country in the world to make this a legal requirement.

In July 2018, the home secretary commissioned an independent review of the act, to look at how effective it’s been.

The review considered provisions in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 relating to:

  • the role of the independent anti-slavery commissioner
  • transparency in supply chains
  • independent child trafficking advocates
  • legal application of the Modern Slavery Act

In May 2019, the review team published its final report and the government responded to the recommendations made.

Alongside the response to the review, in July 2019 the government launched a consultation on transparency in supply chains.

Following this, the government intends to:

  • make it a requirement for businesses to report on all six areas outlined in the act
  • require public sector organisations with a budget of over £36 million to submit modern slavery reports
  • create a central, government-run database where statements submitted under the act will be published
  • consider further enforcement options to improve compliance

Our view

We welcomed the review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and worked closely with the review team.

While more companies have been submitting statements required by the act, we were concerned that it’s not clear how many or which companies are obliged to do so. This makes it difficult to ensure public scrutiny of their actions.

We were also concerned about the quality of statements, as many are superficial and do not address all the strands of work the act recommends.

We welcome the government’s proposals following the 2019 consultation. The majority of these echo our recommendations which are outlined in our response.

What this means for solicitors

You may come into contact with victims of modern slavery as part of your work in criminal, immigration, mental health, children and protection or safeguarding cases.

If you suspect that your client may be a victim of trafficking, you should make proper enquiries concerning this issue. You should share this with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts if necessary, although client confidentiality and legal professional privilege rules still apply, and potential difficulties may arise if it is not accepted.

Some victims may have entered the criminal justice or immigration system after their traffickers forced them to commit an offence. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 creates defences for victims of trafficking who commit an offence.

Read our practice note on how to handle criminal cases involving victims of trafficking and modern slavery

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