MPs and anti-slavery groups are sounding the alarm after recent revelations that ministers in the U.K. are simply “taking the company’s word” that they are tackling slavery in their supply chains. But without conducting any kind of audit, how can they be so sure? This laissez-faire approach to enforcing mandatory anti-slavery declarations seriously undermines the Modern Slavery Act’s ability to keep modern slavery out of U.K. supply chains.
No obligation, no responsibility
The Guardian reports that as part of the Modern Slavery Act, large companies that operate in the U.K. must produce and publish an annual slavery and trafficking statement. This statement lays out what steps the organization has taken over the last year to ensure there is no slavery in any part of its business, including its supply chains.
The statement needs to evolve each year to show improvement over time and must be approved by the board of directors. However, a big red flag is that the law does not oblige companies to set out what exposure they have to slavery or how they are working to reduce any exposure.
Sian Lea, the human rights manager at Anti-Slavery International, said:
“We urgently need laws that hold companies accountable for their failure to prevent human rights and environmental harm and that stop goods made with forced labor from being on the UK market.”
Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) stated it was not responsible for scrutinizing companies’ anti-slavery claims.
We cleaned up the supply chain, trust me
Earlier this year, when Ministers looked at the potential slavery risks at IGT, a US gaming corporation, they gave them a clean bill of health. But IGT had previously reported significant potential slavery risks in their supply chain, so what changed?
Pauline Latham, Conservative MP and a member of the Commons international development committee, said:
“There’s no point having these anti-slavery declarations if it just becomes a pointless box-ticking exercise. It’s unfathomable that a company…can say that around a quarter of its supply chain is at risk one year, then all of a sudden everything seems to be fine…”
DCMS stated that for its assessment of IGT’s exposure to modern slavery, the company had said it “did not have any convictions, breaches or risks in relation to modern slavery”, and DCMS took their word on it.
Demand stronger legislation and a clean supply chain!
Freedom United supports initiatives that hold companies accountable for keeping modern slavery out of their supply chain and protecting the dignity and rights of the workers behind the products. Stand with us and hold the U.K. government responsible for due diligence under the Modern Slavery Act. You can also show your commitment to organizations, campaigns, and projects that strive to improve working conditions, provide fair wages, and advocate for workers’ rights throughout the supply chain by taking the Freedom United fashion pledge. Be part of the solution!