Businesses gear up to tackle slavery

Leading social audit experts and modern slavery academics have joined forces to help businesses identify and avoid slavery practices in their supply chain.

The Modern Slavery Risk Assessment Service run by the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation is helping companies comply with the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.

Under the new rules, businesses with a turnover of £36m upwards are now legally required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement each year, setting out what steps they have taken to ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their business or supply chains.

Failure to comply will result in a court injunction, with fines for continued non-compliance as well as damage to a company’s reputation.

With 17,000 UK companies expected to publish their initial reports by March 2016, demand for the Risk Assessment Service is expected to be high.

The institute’s social audit expert, Cristina Talens, is currently working with a number of the UK’s major retailers to identify risk in their complex supply chains and put measures in place to address the challenge of modern slavery.

She said: “Our aim is to help businesses meet the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act. They need to show real progress year on year to support their ethical credentials and protect their reputation.”

But while companies have a legal obligation to comply with the new rules, she says the more forward-thinking businesses are also viewing their ethical responsibilities as a business opportunity.

“This is a chance to strengthen relationships with suppliers, producers and also customers.

“Consumers are increasingly shopping with their consciences and the online publication of annual anti-slavery statements will enable them to see which companies are putting systems in place to address the issues.”

Providing a unique combination of business experience and academic rigour, the Modern Slavery Risk Assessment Service is able to ‘dig deep’ into supply chains and uncover potential problems such as organised crime, human trafficking and forced labour.

Professor John Oldfield, director of the institute, said: “Because we study past and modern slavery in all its forms, we can utilise our vast knowledge as part of the service.

“The service aims to support both the companies and their suppliers to be aware of the law and mitigate risk.”

The Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research into slavery in November 2015. It is considered to be one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world and regularly contributes to government policy.

An estimated 35 million people are enslaved worldwide in an illegal trade worth £150bn, more than at any point in history.