The Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill 2017

By Ana Beatriz Brito

In July 2017, the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill 2017 underwent its first reading in the House of Lords and is now awaiting its second reading. The proposed amendments are aimed at strengthening the regime of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 which, if passed, will significantly complement the work of Global Rights Compliance (‘GRC’) in Bangladesh.

Modern Slavery Act 2015

In 2015, the UK adopted the Modern Slavery Act, making it the first country in Europe to impose legal obligations on companies regarding reporting requirements aimed at protection against slavery and trafficking.

Section 54 of the 2015 Act outlines the requirements for a “slavery and human trafficking statement”. According to this provision, companies are legally obliged to publish a statement outlining the steps they have taken during the financial year to ensure modern slavery is not taking place in their business or supply chains.

All public and private companies and partnerships with a global turnover of over £36m conducting business or a part of its business in the UK fall within the scope of the 2015 Act. UK companies operating in other countries remain subjected to the requirement under Section 54. This requirement enhances the responsibility of businesses as any steps taken in eliminating slavery and trafficking are transcended throughout global supply chains.

The most recent development is the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill. The Transparency Bill seeks to make further provision for transparency in supply chains in respect of slavery and trafficking. It proposes to amend Section 54 of the 2015 Act in three ways:

  1. The statement would be extended to public authorities;
  2. An additional statement would be required for organisations that have taken no steps to explain why this is so;
  3. The inclusion of certain content in the statement would be made mandatory

GRC provides advisory services to the garment sector in Bangladesh; we work with industry associations, factory owners, trade unions, and government inspectors. Our experts provide advice on the necessary steps to be taken to ensure compliance with human rights standards. This expert advice supports UK companies conducting business in Bangladesh to meet the obligations under the 2015 Act.

If enacted in its current form, the Transparency Bill would complement the work that our team of experts is conducting in Bangladesh as it places a significant emphasis on compliance with transparency within supply chains. 

Taking into consideration the proposals stemming from the Transparency Bill, the second amendment to Section 54 of the 2015 Act would greatly support the global combat against modern slavery as companies would be obliged to elaborate upon the underlying reasons for not having taken any steps throughout the financial year. This would strengthen the regime of the 2015 Act as it would shed light on issues companies are faced with and would promote their willingness to actively take steps to prevent such issues.

The third proposal would also significantly contribute to responsible business practices across the garment industry in Bangladesh. Companies would be legally obliged to include imperative content in their statements. This would enhance the transparency of supply chains as information would be made public and readily available, including policies to slavery and trafficking and due diligence processes. In the long-run, companies may follow suit and publicising such information could become the corporate norm.   

GRC supports the continuation of these negotiations and our team of legal experts awaits for the second reading in the House of Lords.