The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is an Act of Parliament that was introduced to combat modern slavery in the UK. However, since reaching Royal Assent on 26 March 2015, it has been criticised for not providing adequate penalties to deter non-compliance around the accuracy of the content of modern slavery statements and risks in supply chains.
So, on 15 June 2021, the Modern Slavery (Amendments) Bill was introduced into the House of Lords. The amended bill seeks to update the 2015 Act to add two new offences and new requirements for disclosure:
Offence One: false information in modern slavery and human trafficking statements;
Offence Two: continuing to source from supply chain participants after a formal warning;
New Requirements: to publish and verify information about the country of origin of sourcing inputs in its supply chain; to arrange for credible external inspections, external audits, and unannounced external spot-checks; and to report on the use of employment agents acting on behalf of an overseas government.
If this Amendments Bill is approved, it will enable the independent anti-slavery commissioner to issue formal warnings to commercial organisations that fail to meet the transparency obligations in respect of publishing and verifying information about the country of origin of its supply chain. The amendment will further include penalties for breaching the Act to the tune of 4% of global turnover or £20 million, whichever is lower, and/or imprisonment of up to two years for the relevant director, partner or member (depending on the type of organisation in breach).
That said, this proposed Amendments Bill does provide a defence to Offence One if all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that the slavery and human trafficking statement is corrected, and the person/organisation informs the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner as soon as practicable after becoming aware that the statement contains information that is false or incomplete in a material particular and in the case of Offence Two the first breach will trigger a formal warning before the penalties are applied.
At the moment, this is just a proposal, and so it may not get adopted – however, the chances are that some changes will happen to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 in the not-too-distant future, so stay tuned for further updates.
Amanda J. Williams – 360 Business Law
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