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. It’s currently reviewing the feedback from this consultation.

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 made several recommendations, including that:

  • the reporting requirements should be extended to the public sector, especially to organisations that have a turnover over £36 million
  • the Home Office should create a publicly available electronic registry of the companies captured by the act and make sure that this is adequate, up to date and checked annually
  • a range of sanctions should be created to make sure companies comply with the act, such as financial sanctions

We recommended companies should report on all six areas suggested by the act:

  • structure and supply chains
  • policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking
  • due diligence
  • risk assessment
  • actions taken to reduce modern slavery
  • training on modern slavery

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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