Guidance for businesses on modern slavery reporting during the pandemic
The Home Office has issued new guidance to businesses specifically about addressing and reporting on modern slavery risk under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the “MSA”)
The existing duty under section 54 of the MSA requires an organisation with UK £36 million turnover or over that sells goods or services in the UK to:
- publish a modern slavery statement in each annual report;
- a link to the statement must also be included on the website of the business;
- the statement must set out the steps it has taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place within its business or supply chain. The statement provides transparency in the supply chain. Or a statement that the organisation has taken no such steps.
This also applies to organisations based outside the UK selling goods and services to the UK.
The government has advised that, during the Coronavirus pandemic, it is essential for businesses to continue to identify and address risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. The guidance states that as well as focussing on the health and safety of their workers, businesses will need to consider how fluctuations in demand and changes in their operating model may lead to new or increased risks of labour exploitation, including:
- the health and safety of workers – this may include adopting social distancing measures and paying statutory sick pay in order to prevent the spread of the virus;
- supporting suppliers – businesses should prioritise engagement with suppliers, including paying for orders already in production where possible. Late cancellations can lead to workers not receiving wages for work they have completed;
- Grievance procedures – it is important that workers are still able to access these and that new or adapted procedures are made available, where necessary;
- Recruitment – businesses should ensure that they, and their suppliers, are maintaining vigorous checks during recruitment to ensure that vulnerable workers are not being exploited by third parties seeking to profit from heightened demand.
Temporary changes to modern slavery requirements
Businesses will be allowed to delay publication of their modern slavery statement by up to six months due to Coronavirus-related pressures without penalty. A business should state the reason for any such delay in its statement.
Businesses are still required to report on actions they have taken during the period, the government recognising however that new or increased risks may take precedence over previously planned activities. Businesses should use their next statement to show how they monitored risks during this period and adapted their activities and priorities in response. As part of these risk assessments, businesses should consider which parts of their workforce may be particularly vulnerable and keep their board of directors updated on any emerging or heightened risks.
It is particularly important for businesses operating in high risk (of modern slavery) sectors to seek specialist advice and mitigate risk. The food, construction, and hospitality sectors working with cross-border supply chains being obvious targets. We can help you ensure you are able to issue a modern slavery statement and have measures in place to protect the reputation of your business. We have niche expertise to help with this. Please get in touch.