Modern Slavery Reporting – Imminent Changes
In September 2020, the Government responded to the consultation regarding changes to the rules about Modern Slavery Statements, and indicated that the proposed changes would be made law as soon as “parliamentary time allows”. While still only applying to organisations with turnover/budgets of at least £36 million, these changes will mean that those organisations will need to be aware of the changes and the implications. In particular, the new regulations will bring public sector bodies within the requirements for the first time.
What is the current law?
By way of reminder, the current law requires organisations which carry out a business (or part of a business) and have a turnovers of £36 million or more to publish a statement on the steps it has taken to ensure that its business and supply chains are slavery free, or a statement that no steps have been taken to do this.
While the legislation sets out areas which could be included in a statement, this is not mandatory and so the detail is entirely a matter for the organisation.
Although public bodies are not exempt, they only need to publish a statement if they are a “body corporate, carry on commercial activities in the UK and fulfil the turnover criteria.
What is changing?
Duty extended to public bodies
The main headline is, of course, the extension of the duty to public bodies. All public bodies (which will include FE colleges) will be required to publish a statement if their budget in any financial year is at least £36 million (including any turnover from commercial activities). Further guidance is due to follow but it seems there will be no hiding place once the law comes into effect.
Other key changes, of interest to all, include:
- The content of the statement will become mandatory. Although the government has said that the current advised areas of reporting set out in the legislation will remain, it is not yet clear whether this mandatory content will be the exactly the same as the current areas, amended, or expanded;
- The modern slavery statement will have to cover the period from 1 April to 31 March and organisations must meet a reporting deadline of 30 September each year – organisations will no longer have discretion over when to publish their statements;
- Statements will be published on a government run reporting service (similar to gender pay reporting service), as well as the organisation’s own website;
- The government is considering the appropriate civil penalties for non-compliance (ie monetary penalties) and will consider this alongside the development of a proposed single enforcement body for employment rights (which is subject to BEIS consultation).
What should I do now?
If you already publish a modern slavery statement every year, and in general include all the areas set out in the legislation and guidance, you probably do not need to do much right now.
Until we have draft regulations and a timetable, it is not clear exactly what will change in terms of content and it may be that you are already doing enough. As long as your statement usually covers the suggested reporting areas in the legislation (set out below) it is likely that the new form statement will not need to change significantly. However, keep your eyes peeled for updates as, if the regulations are passed this year, the new form statements may need to be published next September.
If you do not already publish a statement but are likely to need to once the new rule come into force (e.g. public sector organisations), you could be starting to prepare now. For example, you could start to collate information about the following areas (as we know that these areas will be included within the mandatory reporting requirements):
- The organisation’s structure, business and supply chains;
- Your policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
- Any due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in your business and supply chains;
- The parts of your business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps which have been taken to assess and manage that risk;
- The organisation’s effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against performance indicators that it considers appropriate; and
- Any training about slavery and human trafficking available to staff.
If you currently take no steps in any of these areas, consider changing this, or establish your reasons.
In addition, you can start to gear up for publication, ensuring that all the relevant personnel know that this is coming. The earlier you get the right departments involved, and let senior management know that they will need to sign off the statement, the quicker the statement can be published when the time comes.