Today I have published a joint statement between myself and a powerful coalition consisting of the private sector, business and human rights organisations, parliamentarians, trade unions and influential individuals, calling on the government to create a central registry for companies' modern slavery statements.
Of the 25 million people estimated to be in modern slavery around the world today, 16 million are thought to be working within the private sector. It is therefore vital that businesses take action to eradicate this terrible abuse.
Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act requires businesses with a turnover of £36 million or more to publish an annual statement explaining what, if anything, they are doing to address slavery and trafficking within their business and supply chains. Whilst some businesses are showing leadership, compliance with the requirement has been patchy. It is time for this to change. A central registry is key to achieving this.
The full statement and signatories can be found below.
JOINT STATEMENT CALLING UPON THE UK GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE A SINGLE STATE-OWNED CENTRAL REGISTRY FOR CORPORATE MODERN SLAVERY STATEMENTS
The UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 provided world-leading legislation, creating a legal framework for tackling this terrible human rights abuse. Section 54 of the Act requires large companies to publish annual statements detailing what, if any, steps they are taking to address slavery and human trafficking in their business and supply chains. This important clause recognises that businesses have a crucial role to play in tackling slavery, as approximately 16 million people worldwide, including 3 million children, are thought to be in forced labour within the private sector today.[i]
We commend the adoption of the Modern Slavery Act and the efforts of the UK government to bring the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking onto the world stage, encouraging other countries to combat this exploitation. We also commend those businesses showing leadership and making genuine and concerted efforts to tackle forced labour in their operations and supply chains.
However, despite impressive action from some companies and sectors, compliance with Section 54 of the Act has been weak. For example, recent reports have found that in 2017 43 of the FTSE 100[ii] and over 40% of the government’s top 100 suppliers failed to meet the basic legal requirements of the Act[iii]. Additionally, two-thirds of businesses analysed in high risk sectors were found to have produced statements which failed to reference relevant slavery or human trafficking risks[iv].
For this reason, we the undersigned - representing a range of interests, including shareholders, non-governmental organisations, businesses, business associations, trade unions and parliamentarians - call upon the government to introduce a single state-owned central registry for Section 54 statements as soon as possible so that its world-leading legislation can live up to its aspirations by providing leadership in the eradication of this crime.
It is our opinion that by mandating a central state-supported filing point for modern slavery statements, such a registry will facilitate improved compliance. The omission of a central repository from the UK’s Modern Slavery Act led to the development of two independent, non-government funded registries. Both are identifying and collecting Section 54 statements. However, we consider that a single publicly-owned central registry is preferable for three reasons: firstly, it will reduce business confusion about where to file modern slavery statements; secondly, providing businesses with a single, state-owned repository in which to file statements sends a clear signal to the private sector that Section 54 is a mandatory legal requirement, and; thirdly, it will enable other stakeholders – such as investors, consumers, non-governmental organisations, trade unions and contracting companies or local authorities –to quickly and easily identify whether a particular company has complied with the Act and to assess what substantive action they are taking to protect their business from slavery, instead of having to look at each company’s individual website for this information. This is crucial to ensure that Section 54 drives progress on corporate action to tackle modern slavery.
Our statement echoes the report made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in 2017 which described the lack of a “requirement for businesses to upload their statements onto a central database” as a “shortcoming” of the Act [v]. Additionally, the Public Accounts Committee’s 2018 report, ‘Reducing Modern Slavery’, stated that the “hands-off approach to businesses’ compliance with its transparency in supply chains legislation is not working…the [Home Office] relies on NGOs, investors and consumers to monitor compliance, including two NGO managed registries of statements. This approach is clearly not working, as compliance with the legislation is low, with only an estimated 30% of businesses required to publish a statement having done so.” [vi]
Australian lawmakers have learnt from the UK experience. In its 2017 report, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, the Australian Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia recommended that the Australian government “establish and support a legislated and government funded central repository of modern slavery statements” [vii]. In its Modern Slavery Bill, published on 28th June 2018, it includes the requirement for the government to "maintain a register of Modern Slavery Statements" which must be "made available for public inspection, without charge, on the internet."[viii]
We believe that the Australian government’s inclusion of such a registry, and the UK government’s recent successful launch of its Gender Pay Gap Reporting Service website, demonstrate that such a registry is both possible and advisable. We also believe that, in the UK, such a registry could be established as a policy decision rather than requiring primary legislation and that therefore the creation of one should be feasible. Therefore, we the undersigned call on the government to provide such a registry as soon as possible to ensure our Modern Slavery Act spurs further meaningful action in the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking.
Anti-Slavery International; British Medical Association; British Retail Consortium; Business and Human Rights Resource Centre; CCLA; Church Investors Group; Clarks; The Clewer Initiative; The Co-op; CORE Coalition; Ethical Trading Initiative; Focus on Labour Exploitation; The Freedom Fund; Freedom United; Hogan Lovells LLP; Hope for Justice; The Human Trafficking Foundation; Humanity United; The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner; The Institute for Human Rights and Business; KnowTheChain; Marks and Spencer; Marshalls plc; Ocado; Oxfam; Penningtons Manches LLP; The Lord Bishop of Derby; Sancroft; Shiva Foundation; Stronger Together; Tesco; Trades Union Congress; Unicef UK; Unison; Baroness Young of Hornsey