United Kingdom: New Law to Combat Supply Chain Slavery and Human Trafficking

The United Kingdom recently enacted the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the first law in Europe aimed at eliminating modern slavery and human trafficking from supply chains.  The Act is anticipated to take effect in October 2015.

Annual Statement Required

This Act requires companies to produce a "slavery and human trafficking statement" each financial year, disclosing their efforts (or lack thereof) to ensure their supply chains are free from slavery and human trafficking.  The statute suggests the statement include information about: 

  • The organization's structure, its business and its supply chains.
  • Its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking.
  • Its due diligence processes regarding slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains.
  • The parts of its business and supply chains vulnerable to slavery and human trafficking, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that vulnerability.
  • Its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate.
  • The training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.

What Organizations Are Covered?

The requirement to create a slavery and human trafficking statement applies to large companies and partnerships that meet a certain minimum turnover requirement (which has not yet been specified by the Secretary of State), that carry on any business or part of a business anywhere in the United Kingdom. The threshold applies to global turnover, not just turnover in the UK, so a U.S.-based company that meets the turnover threshold based on global operations could be covered even if it conducts only a small amount of business in the UK.  The Act is broader than its California version, the Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, which took effect in 2012. The Transparency in Supply Chains Act applies only to retail and manufacturing companies, while the UK Act applies to businesses that supply either goods or services.

What is Required?

If a covered business has a website, it must publish the slavery and human trafficking statement on that website, and include a link to the slavery and human trafficking statement in a prominent place on that website's homepage. If the company does not have a website, it must provide a copy of the statement to anyone who makes a written request for one within 30 days of the request.

Recommended First Steps

Assuming an organization's global turnover meets the threshold to be set by the Secretary of State, some recommendations for initial steps are as follows:

  • Appoint someone within the organization to be in charge of bringing the company within compliance with the new responsibilities under this law.
  • Determine which parts of the business are covered, an assessment that may not be entirely clear until the Secretary of State issues regulations and guidance, e.g., to indicate what the annual turnover threshold trigger will be, and whether wholly-owned subsidiaries will be covered.
  • Analyze who and where suppliers and contractors are and how they operate, and prioritize those involving a potential higher risk.
  • Define the approach to be taken regarding the "slavery and human trafficking statement" requirement.  The scope of the statement can impact the business's reputation, and may be a competitive factor with respect to customers, some of whom may require a certain standard be met. Therefore, although a statement that says the organization is not doing anything is perfectly legal, doing so may not be the best approach and may even miss a competitive opportunity.
  • Consider whether there are stakeholders that must be consulted about the approach, such as leadership, the organization's public relations function if there is one, marketing, the Board, and employee representatives. In addition, identify which external advisors could potentially contribute to or support this approach.
  • Consider what due diligence steps might be applicable in the context of the types of supply chains that may be implicated, and what kind of training would be appropriate, if any.  

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.