VIEW: Think slavery is ancient history? Think again

If you think that slavery is ancient history or at least someone else’s problem, then think again. It is estimated that there are more than 40 million slaves globally, more than a million of them in Europe. Companies operating in the UK with a global turnover in excess of £36m have a legal duty to combat it. Yet, too few firms to date have paid much attention to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA), even though failure to comply carries a huge potential for reputational damage.

A look at the situation in the hospitality industry serves to illustrate the scale of the problem. The number of sex slaves working in and around hotels in Europe alone is put at 93,000 and the number of other slaves at 4,500. There are thought to be more than 12,500 labour slaves working in European restaurants. These are people forced to work without any profit for themselves – a monumental level of human suffering.

The MSA requires companies to produce a Slavery and Human Traffic Statement, which has to be approved by the board and signed off by a director. They also have to explain the actions they have taken to ensure compliance under six different headings, the most challenging of which is likely to be supply chains. How confident can you be that the workers employed by your suppliers – and their suppliers – are all suitably paid and treated?

So far there have been no high-profile prosecutions under the MSA, but it is probably just a matter of time; according to one assessment, roughly half of corporate statements fail to meet its minimum standards. Whilst most companies report action on incorporating it in risk assessments, half provide no meaningful information on how the risk is addressed.

As with so many aspects of risk management, it is not enough just to tick the right boxes. Staff training and awareness are crucial too. Above all, however, firms should look beyond seeing this as a compliance issue. Stamping out the evil of modern human slavery is a moral imperative, and should be embedded as part of corporate social responsibility. By embracing this legislation you will be doing, and be seen to be doing, the right thing.

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