Theresa May cannot defeat Modern Slavery alone – Businesses have to do their part

Last week Theresa May, the UK’s prime minister, announced a crackdown on the “evil” that is modern slavery. She pledged a £33m boost for the fight against this appalling crime, and has set up a newly dedicated taskforce to defeat this corruption – read Theresa’s official article here.

The Global Slavery Index 2016 found that there are an estimated 11,700 people in modern slavery in the UK and a total of 45.8 million people in modern slavery worldwide. Although the UK has a 26.7 out of a 100 vulnerability rating – considerably lower than many other countries – we need to work hard to eliminate this pervasive and hidden practice.

This isn’t the first time that Theresa May has taken action in the fight against Modern Slavery. As Home Secretary, she brought forward the Modern Slavery Act that came into play last year, which enforces tougher penalties and sentences for offences relating to slavery and trafficking.

The Act also calls for companies with a turnover of over £36m to publish an annual report on actions they are taking to prevent human trafficking and modern slavery within their organisation and supply chain.

Whilst pushing forward the legislation, Theresa May echoed our thoughts on the matter:

It is simply not acceptable for any organisation to say, in the 21st Century, that they did not know. It is not acceptable for organisations to ignore the issue because it is difficult or complex. And, it is certainly not acceptable for organisations to put profit above the welfare and wellbeing of its employees and those working on its behalf.
— Theresa May (Source: CIPS – Supply Management)

Despite the encouraging determination from Government to eradicate slavery, it will be down to businesses also to put policy into practice. Companies in the UK should be expected to find and eradicate slavery in their supply chains, armed with the tools to do so.

It doesn’t seem as though many businesses are currently actively supporting the fight as even with the Modern Slavery Act now in place; out of an estimated 12,000 companies who meet the requirements to comply with the act, only 423 have produced and published statements outlining what action they are taking to prevent modern slavery or human trafficking practices within their supply chains [see the list of complying companies and their statements here]. The proposed deadline for statements is not until the end of September (6 months after the financial year-end) so let’s hope several of the remaining 11,500 companies step up.

Why has there been such a low turnout so far? The low number is presumably partly due to there being: 1. No central list of companies that have to make the statement – it’s possible some companies are not aware they should be complying, and 2. There being no penalties for not doing so – if it’s not a legal obligation, many companies may feel they can get away with not doing it or that it’s not of high importance. These have been recognised as major weaknesses of the Act, so we’ll hopefully see some changes being enforced, especially after Theresa May’s latest pledge, to ensure larger compliance from businesses in the next couple of years.

Like every other historical shift before us, collaboration is the only way it can happen. Government, businesses, consumers, you and I – we all need to work together to eradicate modern slavery.