It has been 3 years since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in the United Kingdom, and so far it has produced mixed results. Whilst the percentage of businesses unmasking slavery in their supply chains has risen, the act is still struggling to apply serious pressure to the global companies most at risk from modern slavery. With no direct sanctions for failure to produce a statement, and no enforced directives about what the statement should entail, many firms still appear to be placing the abolition of slavery at the back of their ‘to do’ list.
In October 2017, corporate responsibility watchdog CORE highlighted that, whilst most big-name brands had published a statement in line with the act, most statements were ‘short on detail and lacked transparency’. In 2018 a similar report found that more than 40% of government suppliers failed to meet the minimum level of compliance. Companies were paying lip-service to the act without any proof of substance or behavioural change.
One issue multi-national corporations have is the broad scope of their supply chains. With hundreds or thousands of primary suppliers, each with multiple suppliers of their own, it is a daunting task to follow each avenue back to the raw material source. Instead, many firms are choosing to publicly state their opposition to slavery, while sending questionnaires to suppliers asking them to promise they don’t use slaves. Rather than putting pressure on those companies employing slave labour, this approach merely reinforces the shirking of responsibility that the act sought to remove.
If firms based in the UK want to prove they are taking this issue seriously, it is time to start taking actions that have an impact. 3 years is a long enough adjustment period; now they need to seek strategies and due diligence approaches that have a far-reaching effect on the state of the world.