The Modern Slavery Act 2015
The primary purpose of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is to consolidate the existing law in relation to modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. However, the Act also introduces a new reporting requirement for businesses.
At present this only effects large corporates; in that any business that supplies goods or services with a turnover of £36 million or more and that carries out business, or part of a business, in the UK will be required to publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement.
The purpose of the statement is to set out details of the steps the organisation has taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains or in any part of its own business. Alternatively, it should state that the organisation has taken no such steps. There is currently no further guidance as to the content or format of the statement.
What effect could this have on small and medium size enterprises?
Large corporations will need assurances that their entire supply chain, so presumably suppliers of suppliers, are not engaged in human trafficking or slavery. If you are part of such a supply chain, you should expect to be asked about your employment practices when bidding for contracts, and to be able to illustrate good practice within your business.
This part of the Act is due to come into force sometime in October 2015; expect further updates thereafter.
Sadly modern slavery remains a serious problem in most first world countries, and the UK is no exception. However, better public awareness and understanding, encouraged by the new legislation, means that those perpetrating this behaviour are being dealt with by both our criminal and civil courts.
In August a number of Lithuanian workers were reported to be suing the directors of an egg farm for damages. Their case was that they were made to work long hours in order to pay off the cost of bringing them to the UK, paid for by their employers. However on arrival they were treated appallingly; not being properly fed and their accommodation was described as being ‘riddled with bedbugs’. It is the first case of a UK company being sued for their involvement in modern slavery. It is unlikely to be the last.
Individual employers are also not immune
More recently, in September 2015 Ms Tirkey was awarded £184,000 in unpaid wages by an Employment Tribunal. Ms Tirkey was a nanny who had come to the UK with the family she had worked for in India. She was forced to work 18 hours a day seven days a week and was paid just 11p per hour. She was prevented from going to church; calling her family; and her employer kept her passport. Ms Tirkey also won her claim for caste discrimination and will shortly be awarded compensation for this. It is likely that given the circumstances of this case, and the cruelty Ms Tirkey was subjected to, that the award will be high.
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Laura Pearce, Senior Solicitor