New research restates the case for a Single Enforcement Body
New research published today calls for the government to revisit a manifesto pledge to establish a Single Enforcement Body (SEB) and transform the fragmented labour enforcement system in the UK.
A 2019 government policy paper committed to creating a SEB that would merge three major enforcement bodies: the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Authority and the National Minimum Wage Unit at HM Revenue and Customs. This new body would address the whole spectrum of illegal behaviour by employers - from non-compliance such as non-payment of wages, through to forced labour and modern slavery. Crucially, it would address overstretch and inefficiencies in the enforcement landscape.
A research team from the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab and the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner interviewed key players from enforcement agencies, government, civil society organisations representing workers, and businesses who contributed to the original policy paper, to rekindle discussions on the advantages and disadvantages of a SEB, and address unanswered questions about its remit, powers and mandate.
Progress on the SEB has stalled, despite commitments by successive governments and the shelving of a long-awaited Employment Bill. Despite this, debates on the legislative response to modern slavery and exploitation continue, with an anticipated Modern Slavery Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech (2022). The opportunity to revisit the SEB and address shortcomings in labour market enforcement once and for all must not be missed.
For the SEB to succeed and improve labour market enforcement, the study sets out a series of considerations for policymakers, practitioners and partners:
- Adequate funding and resource. Respondents expressed concern that a SEB could face severe funding limitations within the context of continued austerity and constraints for institutional resourcing.
- A clear remit on the categories and areas of enforcement the SEB covers is imperative, including whether this will include the gig and informal economies in addition to the formal economy.
- Modern slavery mandate. An expanded SEB should hold responsibility for identifying, reporting, and investigating modern slavery, as well as enforcing Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act in relation to modern slavery statements.
- Defined powers. The SEB needs to have access to wide ranging powers from normative, compliance-led influence through to light and hard enforcement powers; operable and consistent throughout the UK.
- Guidelines for businesses. As part of the creation of the SEB, the government should develop guidelines for businesses to ensure they understand and can meet expectations on labour market compliance.
- A strengths-based partnership approach. The SEB should embody a truly functional partnership between relevant partners (enforcement agencies, civil society, businesses domestically and internationally) whereby contributions are recognised and compensated.
- Transformative institutional change. The SEB needs to recruit a more varied body of staff with wider experiences and backgrounds, whilst supporting current staff through training and opportunities for promotion to encourage retention of expertise, to facilitate the cultural change needed.
Professor Alexander Trautrims, Associate Director (Business and Economies) of the Rights Lab, said:
“There is a clear case for reform of the UK’s labour market enforcement landscape. Enforcement bodies, businesses and organisations representing workers are calling for a coherent approach that can address the whole spectrum of labour offences and provide clarity on employment legislation and modern slavery and auditing standards.
“The SEB presents a vital opportunity to transform labour market enforcement. For this to succeed, it must have a clear mandate backed up by the necessary funding and political will. We cannot miss out on the opportunity to radically transform labour market enforcement and protect all workers from mistreatment, abuse and exploitation.”
The research was produced by the Rights Lab in collaboration with the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and is the latest in a series of collaborative rapid research reports.
The project was led by Professor Alexander Trautrims, Rights Lab Associate Director (Business and Economies) and Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Nottingham University Business School. The project team and report co-authors also include Dr Oana Burcu, Rights Lab Senior Research Fellow in Global Regulations and Labour Exploitation; Kate Garbers, Rights Lab Senior Research Fellow in Policy Evidence and Survivor Support; and Katherine Lawson, Research and Innovation Lead at the Office of Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Vicky Brotherton, Rights Lab Head of Policy Engagement and Impact provided support and input into the project.
This study was funded by Research England through the Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement (CAPE) project.
Notes to editors
- Part 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 created the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences and the identification of victims.
- The University of Nottingham's Rights Lab is home to the world’s largest group of modern slavery researchers, and home to many leading modern slavery experts. In 2021 the Commissioner and the Rights Lab agreed a protocol on a collaborative approach to research and innovation.