Modern slavery guidance is ‘too weak’

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Oct 12, 2017
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Members of the Rooney family were convicted of running a modern slavery ring on traveller sites in August

Lincolnshire Police/PA

Anti-slavery laws need to be beefed up to put corporate bosses in the frame for breaches, it has been argued in reaction to the government’s move to amend guidance to companies.

Earlier this month Home Office officials updated efforts to encourage companies to comply with requirements in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Whitehall wants businesses to produce statements listing their efforts to ensure they comply with the requirements in the law to show “transparency” supply chains.

The move comes after the conviction in August of the 11-strong members of the Rooney clan, who were convicted of running a modern slavery ring on traveller sites in Lincolnshire.

The amended guidance introduced a definition of child labour and encouraged organisations turning over less than £36 million annually to produce statements. It also amended the language encouraging compliances; instead of saying statements “may” include certain information the guidance now suggests organisations “should aim to include” that information.

On Tuesday expert commentators urged the government to go further and legislate. “One option may be an extension of the corporate failure to prevent offence,” said Chris Cartmell, a senior solicitor at PwC, one of the “big four” accountancy firms.

Cartmell said that the failure to prevent provision had been successful in cracking down on with bribery and corruption, and he pointed out that it had also recently been adapted to cover tax evasion. “We would encourage the government to consult with companies, charities, non-governmental organisations and advisors to consider what options may be available to ensure compliance with the Modern Slavery Act,” Cartmell said.

Other lawyers backed the government’s move. Tom Stocker, a partner at Pinsent Masons, described the updated guidance as “significant because the government is telling companies that they should conduct modern slavery risk assessments, carry out due diligence on suppliers, produce policies and procedures, deliver awareness training, and monitor compliance”.

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