With particular emphasis on transparency in supply chains, a review of the operation and effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 recommends stricter requirements for companies to comply with the Act and harsher penalties if they fail to do so.

The Government commissioned MPs Frank Field and Maria Miller, together with Baroness Butler-Sloss, to run an independent review of the 2015 Act in order to strengthen and enhance the current legislation as modern slavery evolves.

Available at GOV.UK, their final report includes 80 recommendations.

The Government is considering these and has said that it will respond formally “in due course”.

Highlighting that the number of potential victims identified in the UK each year has more than doubled from 3266 in 2015 to 6993 in 2018, Mr Field explained why the review was needed, after the Act had been in force for four years.

“It gives law enforcement agencies the tools to tackle modern slavery offences, including a maximum life sentence for perpetrators and enhanced protection for victims”, he agreed. “But there are still sadly too few convictions being handed down for the new offences prosecuted under the Act, and too few Slavery and Trafficking Prevention and Risk Orders are in place to restrict offender activity.”

Through the Act, Mr Field continued, the UK became the first country in the world to introduce pioneering transparency in supply chains requirements, leading to thousands of large businesses taking action to identify and eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains.

The review report recommends putting teeth into this part of the Act so that all businesses take seriously their responsibilities to check their supply chains.

When identifying those which should be reporting, the report suggests that the Government could usefully look at the work done to identify employers required to comply with gender pay gap reporting.

Too many companies are approaching their obligations as a mere tick-box exercise, Mr Field said, and it is estimated around 40% of eligible companies are not complying with the legislation at all.

Comment by Andy Willis, Head of Legal at Croner

Currently, not all employers need to produce a modern slavery statement and I would remind them that it is not yet a legal requirement to take steps to tackle modern slavery, provided they include that they have not done so in their statement.

That said, they should also remember that reporting they have taken no steps could be very damaging for the overall reputation of their business, especially if it later comes to light that an operator on their supply chain does use slavery within its operation.

Although this independent review only contains recommendations, and it remains to be seen how the Government will respond, it does send a clear message to employers that working against modern slavery remains a top priority.

Last reviewed 5 June 2019