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LONDON – Marks & Spencer and Clarks are among 35 businesses, NGOs, investor groups and civil society organisations to back calls to create a central registry for companies’ modern slavery statements in the UK. The UK has led the way on global efforts to combat slavery in supply chains, which is a pertinent issue in the apparel industry where much production is outsourced to poorly regulated parts of the world, particularly Asia.

Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act requires businesses with a turnover of £36 million or more to publish an annual statement explaining what they are doing to address slavery and trafficking within their business and supply chains, however, compliance has not been particularly high and M&S is among those who believe a central registry is key.

The signatories claim that of the 25 million people estimated to be in modern slavery around the world today, 16 million are thought to be working within the private sector.

The statement says: “We commend the adoption of the Modern Slavery Act and the efforts of the UK government to bring the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking onto the world stage, encouraging other countries to combat this exploitation. We also commend those businesses showing leadership and making genuine and concerted efforts to tackle forced labour in their operations and supply chains.

“However, despite impressive action from some companies and sectors, compliance with Section 54 of the Act has been weak. For example, recent reports have found that in 2017 43 of the FTSE 100[ii] and over 40 per cent of the government’s top 100 suppliers failed to meet the basic legal requirements of the Act[iii]. Additionally, two-thirds of businesses analysed in high risk sectors were found to have produced statements which failed to reference relevant slavery or human trafficking risks.

“For this reason, we the undersigned – representing a range of interests, including shareholders, non-governmental organisations, businesses, business associations, trade unions and parliamentarians – call upon the government to introduce a single state-owned central registry for Section 54 statements as soon as possible so that its world-leading legislation can live up to its aspirations by providing leadership in the eradication of this crime.

“It is our opinion that by mandating a central state-supported filing point for modern slavery statements, such a registry will facilitate improved compliance. The omission of a central repository from the UK’s Modern Slavery Act led to the development of two independent, non-government funded registries. Both are identifying and collecting Section 54 statements. However, we consider that a single publicly-owned central registry is preferable for three reasons: firstly, it will reduce business confusion about where to file modern slavery statements; secondly, providing businesses with a single, state-owned repository in which to file statements sends a clear signal to the private sector that Section 54 is a mandatory legal requirement, and; thirdly, it will enable other stakeholders – such as investors, consumers, non-governmental organisations, trade unions and contracting companies or local authorities –to quickly and easily identify whether a particular company has complied with the Act and to assess what substantive action they are taking to protect their business from slavery, instead of having to look at each company’s individual website for this information. This is crucial to ensure that Section 54 drives progress on corporate action to tackle modern slavery.”

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