Modern Slavery Bill: what does it mean for businesses?

The Modern Slavery Bill was introduced in June 2014 and is the first of its kind in Europe.  The Government’s aim is to bring together, in a single Act, legislative measures to combat slavery and human trafficking.  It is currently going through Parliament and is expected to be enacted before the general election in May 2015.

The Bill consolidates current offences relating to trafficking and slavery and includes provisions to:

  • increase the maximum sentence available for the most serious offences from 14 years to life imprisonment;
  • introduce slavery and trafficking prevention orders and slavery and trafficking risk orders to restrict the activity of individuals where they pose a risk of causing harm;
  • create a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner, to drive an improved and more coordinated law enforcement response at all levels, working in the interests of victims;
  • ensure that perpetrators convicted of slavery or trafficking face the toughest asset confiscation regime;
  • strengthen law enforcement powers at sea to close loopholes which prevent the police and Border Force being able to act where it is suspected that human trafficking or forced labour is taking place on board vessels at sea;
  • require commercial organisations above a certain size threshold to report each year on the steps they have taken to eradicate slavery in their business and supply chains.

The last proposal was initially omitted from the draft Bill, which lead to widespread criticism. Various organisations raised their concerns about the lack of accountability of businesses who are directly or indirectly involved in the global issue of slavery and human trafficking. The exact threshold of those businesses required to report is not yet determined and statutory guidance is expected. The disclosure rules will mean that those businesses affected will need to be fully up to speed with their obligations under the new legislation and could mean that businesses need to be fully equipped with all the relevant contracts, policies and practices of the various contractors and sub-contractors involved in their supply chain. It is recommended at this stage that medium and larger size businesses start putting policies and procedures in place and that as a minimum going forwards they include obligations in contracts for their suppliers not to engage in or promote slavery or trafficking and to keep compliant with the law.

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