The Modern Slavery Statement Registry

22 March 2021

Author: Richard Gray
Practice Area: Corporate - M&A

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Following the government’s recent commitment to strengthen the reporting requirements under section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the “2015 Act”), the Home Office has this month launched an online Modern Slavery Statement Registry to enhance transparency and accessibility in this increasingly visible area. The government’s main task now is to encourage all organisations required to produce a modern slavery statement to submit an up-to-date version of this to the registry, although submission is intended to become mandatory in the future.

Reporting Requirements under the 2015 Act

Section 54 of the 2015 Act requires ‘commercial organisations’ (defined as organisations which supply goods or services and have an annual turnover of £36m) to prepare a modern slavery statement for each financial year. This statement should set out information about the organisation’s structure, business and supply chains, including any steps or policies it has in place to ensure that modern slavery or human trafficking is not involved in these. Currently section 54 (7) of the 2015 Act requires that the statement be published on the organisation’s website. There must be a link to this statement in a ‘prominent place’ on that website’s homepage. If a commercial organisation does not have a website, it must promptly make its modern slavery statement available to anyone who asks for it.

Consultations and Commitments

In line with the government’s continuing focus on modern slavery and corporate transparency, as part of a more general concentration on environmental, social and governmental issues in the UK’s corporate world, the government published a consultation paper on section 54 of the 2015 Act in July 2019. One of the main points for discussion was a potential strengthening of the reporting and transparency requirements detailed above. The government was aware that the majority of monitoring for compliance with these requirements has largely been undertaken by non-profit stakeholders instead of by the government. Therefore, the consultation considered the need to enhance the reporting requirements under section 54 and formally extend them to public sector bodies.

The government published its response to the consultation on 22 September 2020. In this response, it made a number of commitments, including:

  • The extension of the Act to include public sector bodies with a budget threshold in excess of £36m;
  • The introduction of reporting deadlines;
  • Harsher penalties for non-compliance;
  • Increasing the amount of information to be included in the statement; and
  • Creation of a new government reporting service.

The last of these commitments forms the basis of the new Registry. However, it is important to note that these commitments are just that, commitments. They do not yet have the force of law and proposals are to be progressed “when parliamentary time allows” – organisations should bear in mind that the law in this area is subject to change in the near future.

The Modern Slavery Statement Registry

The Modern Slavery Statement Registry is designed to make it easier for interested parties to search for statements, and to compare the actions that organisations subject to the requirements are taking to identify and address the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. It is also intended to permit the government to monitor compliance with greater ease. Publication in the Registry is currently voluntary, but the government intends to legislate for mandatory reporting under planned changes to the regime. The Registry can be accessed here.

Conclusions

As noted above, the government’s commitments in this area provide a framework around which legislation will be built going forward. The launch of the Registry is an important first step in terms of compliance with transparency requirements and organisations would do well to add their statement voluntarily to the Registry before upload becomes mandatory. This will keep the organisation on the right side of a potentially dynamic area of law going forward.

If you have any queries, the Corporate team at Carson McDowell would be happy to help.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

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