FLEX welcomes the timeliness of the Government’s response and is pleased the Government has accepted a number of crucial recommendations. Overall, it is clear the Government recognises this legislation needs to be enhanced and improved, although it has missed some important opportunities to show real commitment to the Act’s meaningful application.
Transparency in Supply Chains
On Section 54 of the Act, the ‘transparency in supply chains’ clause, FLEX has previously called for the Government to establish a registry of all corporate modern slavery statements and we are pleased to see this has been accepted. This registry will enable civil society to hold businesses to account for their anti-slavery reporting and actions, and it will enable businesses to ensure they are not working with suppliers or partners who are failing to tackle this abuse. We hope a registry will be established within a reasonable timeframe.
Likewise, it is positive to see the Government recognising the need for this clause to extend to public procurement which we hope will drive up compliance rates and the quality of statements by companies wishing to win public contracts.
However, there are two crucial recommendations which appear to have been evaded. On public procurement, the Government has not committed to automatically banning any company which does not comply with section 54 from winning public contracts. It does note that there are processes in place to identify such companies, and that refusal on these grounds is permissible; however, it would send a stronger message to draw a red line against any company which has failed to adhere to the law from winning public bids.
Sanctions for corporate non-compliance was a major focus of this Review and its consultation period. It is a shame to see that this appears to have been kicked into the long grass, with Government stating that it will consult on enforcement options. We strongly call on Government to run this consultation with alacrity, given the extensive input already provided on options for sanctions during the Review itself. The Government should announce a clear timeframe within which it will have completed this consultation and at what point sanctions will come into force.
Finally, the Government has not committed to removing the clause under Section 54 that allows companies to report that they have taken ‘no steps’ to address modern slavery and human trafficking. We hope after consideration of legal options, Government will make this crucial change which currently enables businesses to take no action.
The role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner
On the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, we are pleased to see measures being accepted that will support Dame Sara Thornton in her role and its independence, such as the new Memorandum of Understanding between the Commissioner and the Home Office, and a commitment by Government to respond to her annual reports. This will protect and enhance the efficacy of this crucial role.
However, it must be noted that the Government has rejected the recommendation to move sponsorship of this role from the Home Office to an alternative department. Acceptance of this recommendation would have shown genuine commitment on the part of Government to the independence of the role on a long-term basis, and FLEX considers that, notwithstanding the independence of the postholder themselves, it remains problematic to have any role sponsored by the very Government department which it is meant to hold to account.
Compensation for victims
It is well-recognised that compensation for victims is too difficult to secure and that many are going without the financial redress they deserve and need in order to rebuild their lives. Despite this, the Government has not committed to ensuring Legal Aid provision is commensurate with victims’ needs and instead has stated it will monitor this issue on an ongoing basis. FLEX looks forward to working with them on this to ensure the UK fulfils its international obligations to provide substantive support and redress to victims of human trafficking.