Press release: Modern Slavery PEC report backs the need for the Government to take greater role in enforcing Modern Slavery Act’s business supply chain transparency measures to make them more effective.
Relying on civil society to hold business to account for preventing modern slavery in their supply chains has been ineffective, a new report by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre has found. The report has backed the need for the Government to take a greater role in enforcing the Modern Slavery Act’s transparency in supply chains measures.
The report’s findings support the introduction of the Government’s recently proposed reforms of the transparency in supply chains measures, including introducing a state-run central registry for modern slavery statements and financial penalties for organisations failing to comply with the requirements. The research drew on lessons from corporate regulations already in place in other areas such as gender pay gap, bribery and environment, to identify other potential reforms.
The report was commissioned by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) and developed by the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.
Monitoring burden on civil society makes provisions ineffective
In 2015, the UK Government, through the Transparency in Supply Chains (TISC) section of the Modern Slavery Act, required large businesses to publish an annual statement detailing what steps, if any, they had taken to address modern slavery in their supply chains. The Government’s intention was that this legislation would enable civil society to monitor the effectiveness of these transparency in supply chains (TISC) measures.
The researchers analysed the civil society’s efforts to monitor business reporting. Finding that a ‘spectrum of effectiveness’ exists in evaluation of the statements, the researchers found limited compliance by businesses with the express requirements of the law. However, despite the statements increasing in sophistication year on year, they didn’t find evidence of statements necessarily translating into meaningful changes in corporate behaviour and ultimately reduction in modern slavery occurring in business supply chains.
The report lists several barriers to civil society monitoring, including their lack of resources, lack of detail and transparency in modern slavery statements, the lack of mandatory requirements and the lack of clarity on the format of statements, enabling companies reluctant to acknowledge the full risks of modern slavery in their supply chains to avoid scrutiny.
“Civil society organisations found it extremely difficult to access verifiable and evidence-backed information in the statements and don’t have the necessary resources to continuously and conclusively oversee business compliance”, said Lisa Hsin from the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford, one of the authors of the report.
“In this context, businesses, if they want, can find it very easy to hide behind sometimes detailed statements, but ones which ultimately fail to provide clarity on the real steps taken to prevent exploitation”, she added.
“The Government needs to take more active steps to reduce relying on civil society and introduce some form of Government-based monitoring, based on a nuanced spectrum of effectiveness”, she concluded.
Enforcement mechanisms for other areas of corporate regulations offer options for monitoring TISC measures
The researchers also analysed other areas of corporate regulations across the UK, such as gender pay gap, consumer protection, bribery, health and safety and environment, where the state’s role in monitoring business compliance with regulations is greater.
They found that a range of mechanisms, from administrative functions to civil and criminal sanctions, serve an important role in holding business to account more successfully than under the Modern Slavery Act, including inspections, fines, strict liability, directors’ liability and prosecutions.
“The Government should look at what is already in place and often works quite well in other contexts and consider similar measures for monitoring of the TISC measures”, said Irene Pietropaoli from the Bingham Centre, another author of the report. “It could be much easier to introduce rather than reinventing the wheel and starting from scratch”, she added.
Murray Hunt, the director of the Modern Slavery PEC and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, said:
“This report adds important evidence to what has been becoming increasingly obvious: that the Government needs to play a greater role in holding business to account for failing to prevent exploitation in its supply chains. The recent reform announcements are welcome signs that the Government recognises it too.
“Business supply chains are one of the key areas of focus for our Centre and I look forward to working both with the Government and with business to improve the regulatory response and to make progress in protecting people from exploitative practices across the world.”
Notes to editors:
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Modern Slavery PEC’s Communications Director Jakub Sobik at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07912145610.
About the Modern Slavery PEC
The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) was created by the investment of public funding to enhance the understanding of modern slavery and transform the effectiveness of laws and policies designed to overcome it. It's designed to provide independent, impartial and authoritative insight and analysis on modern slavery based on high quality research it commissions, aiming to have a transformational impact on the understanding of modern slavery and the responses to it.
The Centre brings together academics, policymakers, businesses, civil society, survivors and the public on a scale not seen before in the UK to collaborate on solving this global challenge. The Modern Slavery PEC’s approach is rooted in human rights.
Led by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law (part of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL)), the Centre is a consortium of universities and Independent Research Organisations consisting of the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, the Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull, the Centre for the Study of International Slavery at the University of Liverpool, the Bonavero Institute on Human Rights at the University of Oxford and the Alan Turing Institute. The Modern Slavery PEC is funded and actively supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on behalf of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), from the Strategic Priorities Fund.
About the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights
The Bonavero Institute of Human Rights is a research institute within the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford. The Institute is dedicated to fostering world-class research and scholarship in human rights law, to promoting public engagement in and understanding of human rights issues, and to building valuable conversations and collaborations between human rights scholars and human rights practitioners. Read more about the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/centres-institutes/bonavero-institute-human-rights.
About the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law
The Bingham Centre is dedicated to the study, promotion and enhancement of the rule of law worldwide. It does this by defining the rule of law as a universal and practical concept, highlighting threats to the rule of law, conducting high quality research and training, and providing capacity-building on the rule of law to enhance economic development, political stability and human dignity.
The Centre helps countries, international organisations, corporations and legal bodies to build rule of law commitments, whilst improving the skills and abilities of legal practitioners and governments around the world to secure access to justice for their populations. The Centre is part of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL), an independent research institute established in London over 50 years ago. Read more about the Bingham Centre at www.binghamcentre.biicl.org.