Comment: Modern Slavery: Putting Effective Due Diligence in Place

The Modern Slavery Act, passed in March 2015, enshrines in law a requirement for companies to make an annual slavery and human trafficking statement on the steps they have taken in relation to eradicating modern slavery in their own operations and in their supply chains. The government is expected to issue guidance in October of this year to help companies meet the Act. However, the legal requirement is about making a statement and the guidance is likely to be around the type of content that could be included in that statement. The law does not make any comment about the practical actions that companies need to take in order to address the issue of modern slavery.

The challenge for companies is that while the legal requirement itself is not particularly onerous (there is no requirement to have taken any actions at all), there is increasing recognition by businesses that the Act is likely to be a mechanism for civil society to hold companies more accountable. Statements must be prominently displayed on company websites, which will make it easier to compare the actions of different companies.

Companies that have realised this are now looking at their existing due diligence processes for modern slavery and asking themselves if these are sufficient in the face of increasing public scrutiny. The difficulties in doing this are substantial: 

  • Modern slavery is a widespread and, in some places, systemic problem (the ILO estimates that there are 21 million slaves and victims of trafficking worldwide)
  • It is a hidden issue (and therefore very challenging to root out)
  • It manifests in different ways (so there is no 'one size fits all' approach)
  • Supply chains are long and complex (leaving questions as to where responsibility starts and stops)
  • Putting measures in place will take time

In our work, we have found companies searching for processes that will safeguard them on this issue. The best safeguard will be to deploy due diligence practices similar to those envisioned by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles cannot, however, be reduced to processes and checkboxes. They require instead a shift in mindset, behaviour and practices.

To help companies understand what this would mean for their businesses, we are running a half day training course on Modern Slavery: Putting Effective Due Diligence in Place. The aim is to help companies to navigate this vast and complex issue in a way that aligns with the UNGPs.

The course is aimed at representatives of businesses and will enable participants to understand:

  • Ways to assess risks of modern slavery in their own operations and in their supply chains
  • Appropriate decision making
  • The application and limitations of existing tools for ongoing due diligence

The course took place on Wednesday 4 November in Central London.