Create a NatWest Business Hub account to subscribe to your favourite topics and to hear about our business events.
Even small businesses can be affected by modern slavery issues. Here’s how to help eradicate forced labour and human trafficking from your business or supply chain.
Last updated: 08 Sep 2021 4 min read
Modern slavery – the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain – is a serious crime and an abuse of human rights. It is defined in the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 as comprising the offences of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour, and human trafficking. It can exist in any supply chain, any industry and any workplace, and it’s happening in the UK.
All businesses are vulnerable to modern slavery occurring within their operations. At NatWest Mentor, we describe it as a well-hidden crime. And, without appropriate precautions, modern slavery can occur without the business owner knowing.
The Modern Slavery Act sets out a range of measures on how modern slavery and human trafficking should be dealt with in the UK. Section 54 requires businesses with a turnover of £36m or more to publish an annual statement setting out the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their business and supply chains. Where no steps have been taken, a statement must also disclose this point.
Legislation is predicted to tighten further in the future. According to professional services firm PwC, the Home Office is considering a range of options to boost compliance and strengthen reporting, including more punitive sanctions for corporate compliance failings.
As part of their due diligence, large companies are scrutinising how SMEs in their supply chain, or those bidding for contracts, are demonstrating that they are managing risks effectively. If you apply for a government contract, you will also have to prove how you are protecting workers.
“We’re not just talking about modern slavery or labour exploitation happening in unscrupulous businesses; it’s happening in legitimate businesses as unscrupulous people infiltrate supply chains” Justine Currell, CEO, Unseen
Consumers, investors, and non-governmental organisations are increasingly likely to apply pressure where they believe a business has not taken sufficient steps to reduce the risk of exploitation for their workers.
Over 50% of calls to the helpline of anti-slavery charity Unseen are related to labour exploitation. “We’re not just talking about modern slavery or labour exploitation happening in unscrupulous businesses,” says CEO Justine Currell. “It’s happening in legitimate businesses as unscrupulous people infiltrate supply chains.
“One consequence of the pandemic has been an increase in buying goods and services online, leading to real growth in the logistics sector, for example. More people are contacting Unseen to say they feel exploited and abused in that sector. It’s something we really need to think about not only from a business perspective, but from an individual perspective as well.”
“First and foremost, know who you’re working with, both up and down the supply chain, because the easiest way for your business to be inadvertently and indirectly affected is by somebody else not taking the appropriate steps,” says Justine.
When you’re working with others, ask questions. And don’t just ask them once, make sure you engage and interact, so you know if something changes further down your supply chain and if it has become an increased risk.
Although SMEs are not under any legal obligation to publish a modern slavery statement, businesses are expected to act now. Those that are proactive can benefit by:
“I think people assume that by taking further action, you’re going to reduce your profits – but that’s not the case,” says Justine. “It’s brand building; but it can also be damaging to your reputation if you don’t take action.”
is a difficult and complex issue. NatWest Mentor is keen to support and educate SMEs to help them reduce risk and understand where they can go for further information and support. To find out more about our services, visitnatwestmentor.co.uk
Workforce support. NatWest Mentor, Leadership and Management