Is Modern Slavery really an issue for your business?

man in black jacket and pants standing on sidewalk during daytime
Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Slavery is a modern world problem and can take many forms, including human trafficking and forced labour. According to a recent report carried out by the International Labour Organisation, Walk Free and IOM UN Migration (—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_854733.pdf), there were an estimated 50 million people working against their will or in a marriage they were forced into in 2021. According to the report, that’s roughly 1 in 150 people in the world. Approximately a quarter of all slavery victims are children and millions are exploited by the private economy and state authorities.

The reality is modern slavery exists everywhere – from beauty salons to factory workers, nannies to people who make our clothes and fancy living room rugs, your supply chains and your employees. The list goes on.

What’s the law on slavery in the UK?

The legislation in this area is the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the ‘Act’).  The Act requires any organisation in any part of a group structure to comply with the reporting provisions of the Act if they:

  • are a body corporate or a partnership, wherever incorporated
  • carry on a business, or part of a business, in the UK
  • supply goods or services
  • have an annual turnover of £36m or more

What are businesses required to do to comply with the Act?

If your business meets the criteria above, then you are required to publicly report by publishing a statement on your website on the steps your business is taking to prevent modern slavery in your operations and supply chains and to keep this updated annually.

Rather confusingly, the Act also says that you can publish a statement saying that your business has taken no such steps, though an independent review conducted by the Secretary of State of the Act in December 2021 (Independent review of the Modern Slavery Act: final report (accessible version) – GOV.UK ( suggests that businesses should not be able to state that they have taken no steps to address modern slavery in their supply chains.

What may you include in the statement?

That’s right. The question above asks what ‘may’ you include and not what ‘must’ or ‘should’ you include. That’s because the legislation at clause 54(5) which deals with transparency in your supply chains gives guidance on the kinds of things you might want to think about but does not make any of the information mandatory to include. Here’s what the Act says about what you may want to include in the statement:

Information about;

  • the organisation’s structure, its business and its supply chains;
  • its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
  • its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains;
  • the parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
  • its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate
  • the training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.

It seems the legislation is not concerned about the quality of statements as it does not mandate the inclusion of the above a-f, but the government have responded recognising that many organisations have published ‘poor quality’ statements which contain little or not evidence of the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking in their operations and supply chains.  The Secretary of State report goes further and says that the legislation should be amended to require companies to consider the entirety of their supply chains in respect of modern slavery. If a company has not done so, it should be required to explain why it has not and what steps it is going to take in the future. There is expected to be more legislation in this area to clarify things for businesses but in the meantime, our recommendation is to ensure you look at points a-f above, and consider your processes for due diligence, monitoring and reporting of modern slavery in your supply chains and with your employees.

What should you do if you meet the criteria but do not have a statement currently or if you want to publish a statement regardless of whether you meet the criteria or not?

As lawyers we can’t tell you what processes to implement but we can tell you how to comply with the legislation. If you want to engage in a meaningful way with the issue, our suggestions would be:

  • to think about which suppliers you work with and your employment practices and where there may be risks of modern slavery
  • to do your due diligence i.e., carrying out site visits with suppliers, asking to see suppliers’ modern slavery policies and what they are doing to address modern slavery (this should not simply be a ‘tick box’ exercise but it would likely require a deep dig into your supply chains etc)
  • to outline your monitoring processes i.e., you might wish to identify ‘high risk’ countries and focus on those
  • to work out your processes in the event you discover an issue in your supply chains, hiring processes etc
  • to think about how reporting works i.e., if employees want to report any issues, for example.
  • to engage all parts of your business and for everyone to take collective responsibility in working out the processes.

Once you have thought about the above, we’d be happy to have a chat with you to discuss how to put this into a formal statement to publish on your website. In the meantime, we’re here if you have any questions.

Neelam Narshi, Tend Legal, London.