LONDON – New research suggests UK legislation to address slavery in multi-national global supply chains has no teeth. When asked, just 81 companies (54 per cent) of 150 businesses surveyed had met the stipulations of the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA) which requires companies with a financial turnover of more than £36m to make an annual statement on their efforts to combat modern slavery. The legislation has particular relevance for the apparel sector given that large swathes of production is outsourced to garment factories in Asia.
Human rights consultants Ergon found that of the 81 companies which produced an annual statement recently, 42 per cent made minimal or no changes to their statement from 12 months previously, suggesting this is not a priority area. A leading international clothing brand which remained anonymous said: “The lack of penalty for not reporting means that many businesses have not acted on the modern slavery requirements.”
Outside of the survey sample, Marks & Spencer and Primark are cited in the report for good practice, with both companies providing links to full lists of suppliers with factory information including factory names, addresses, the number of workers and gender disaggregation of the workforce.
Interviews with companies out of the sample range suggested the MSA has been instrumental in raising awareness internally, particularly at senior leadership level.
Louise Nicholls, corporate head of human rights at Marks & Spencer agreed on the need to raise awareness more widely in the business, “Reporting on its own is not a magic bullet but it has been hugely helpful in widening the number of companies and brands having conversations about modern slavery, and including a wider range of partners, such as franchises”.
Several companies expressed concern around the lack of consistency in reporting requirements across jurisdictions, as well as the lack of enforcements and penalties for non-compliance. Simon Connell, head of sustainability strategy at Standard Chartered Bank said “The most pressing need is to get more companies to report or report in more detail. We need to raise the lower end of the playing field.”