by Brian Collett — Businesses would have to include statements on their slavery policies in their Companies House returns under legislation now before the UK Parliament.
This measure would be accompanied by a central listing of all businesses bound by the rule that they must be transparent about modern slavery in their activities and in their supply chains.
A credible repository of modern slavery statements has often been called for, reports the Ethical Trading Initiative, commonly known as the ETI, a London-based alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs promoting workers’ rights in the manufacturing sector worldwide.
These records, says the ETI, would be easy to view and would highlight responsible companies’ efforts to map their supply chains, examine corporate systems and structures within them, and conduct due diligence inquiries.
They would have to be “independent, credible, transparent, freely accessible and robust”, insists the ETI.
The legislation being considered is the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill. It would impose the same demands on government bodies as on private enterprise businesses and would require contracting authorities to conduct similar due diligence and to deny work to companies that had not produced a slavery and human trafficking statement.
It represents an update on the existing Modern Slavery Act and would bring it into line with legislation already established in the US.
The Bill has been put forward in the House of Lords by Baroness Young of Hornsey, the former actress Lola Young, who sits as a cross-bench peer.
The progress of the legislation could be slow, however. The Bill has received its second reading in the Lords and is now in the committee stage, during which amendments can be inserted.
The Lords can then decide whether to accept the Bill in its new form and a third reading would follow.
Next, the Bill would go to the House of Commons, which would conduct the same procedure. After this, it would need the Royal Assent before becoming law.
Widespread concerns about slavery in 21st-century Britain have brought about the Modern Slavery Act and the present Bill.
Several incidents of slave labour have been uncovered in recent years. In a civil case in June, four Lithuanian men trafficked to the UK, forced to work in degrading conditions and said to have been subjected to violence by their supervisors, won a compensation claim against DJ Houghton Catching Services, of Maidstone, Kent. The compensation amount is still to be decided.