To many, slavery is a problem of the past. The unfortunate truth is that it’s still a global problem. Latest estimates from the UN rank modern slavery as the second-largest criminal activity in the world.

In 2015, the UK introduced the Modern Slavery Act. It was the first of its kind to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century. The Act enhanced support and protection for victims and gave law enforcement the tools needed to target today’s perpetrators.

The Act also included a provision to encourage businesses to take control of their supply chains and ensure that they are slavery free. This legislation was developed in the wake of stories such as the abuse of undocumented migrants in the Irish fishing industry and slavery linked to Thai prawns being sold in UK supermarkets.

Supply chain transparency, falling under Section 54, is an important addition to the Act. One designed to encourage companies to be proactive in their ethical considerations of suppliers. It applies to any commercial organisation that provides goods or services within the UK and has a turnover of £36 million or more. If a company falls within this remit they must publish an annual financial statement that outlines steps taken to ensure no slavery is present anywhere within the business or its supply chain.

The impact was immediate. Prosecutions increased from 12 in 2015 to 51 in 2016.

However, modern slavery is still a continuing concern. In 2017, consultant firm Verisk Maplecroft recorded increases in modern slavery risk across 20 EU countries.

The Modern Slavery Act has become a template for other European countries hoping to improve transparency in businesses and supply chains. In February 2017, France adopted similar legislation. The Netherlands passed a new bill investigating child labour within company operations and supply chains. Across the pond, the USA has made strides against modern slavery with the 2010 California Transparency in Supply Chain Act and the yet to be passed Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015.

The fight against modern slavery continues but through the Modern Slavery Act and similar legislation around the world, we are beginning to move in the right direction.

-Alex Penn


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