On 15 June 2021, the Modern Slavery (Amendment) Bill (the ‘Amendment Bill’) was introduced in the House of Lords (the second chamber of the UK Parliament).
The Private Members’ Bill proposes various amendments to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the ‘MSA’), the most significant of which are:
i. To make it a criminal offence to supply a false modern slavery and human trafficking statement;
ii. To make it a criminal offence for companies to continue to use supply chains which fail to demonstrate minimum standards of transparency; and
iii. To improve standards of transparency in supply chains in relation to modern slavery and human trafficking.
This development is the latest in a series of recent efforts by both the UK Government and members of Parliament to increase the obligations on businesses to prevent modern slavery from occurring in their supply chains and organisations.
The current law
In 2015, the UK became the first country in the world to require businesses to report on their progress in identifying and addressing modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains.
Section 54 of the MSA imposes an obligation on commercial organisations that carry on business in the UK and have a total turnover of £36 million or more to publish an annual statement setting out the steps that have been taken to ensure that modern slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in their businesses and supply chains.
Statements must be approved by the company board and signed by a director (or equivalent), and be made available on the home page of the company’s website (as well as, on a voluntary basis, on a central modern slavery statement registry). If a business is unable to publish a modern slavery and human trafficking statement, that business must produce a statement explaining that it has taken no steps to produce a modern slavery and human trafficking statement.
At present, while the Secretary of State may enforce a duty to prepare a modern slavery and human trafficking statement in civil proceedings by way of an injunction, and a company failing to comply with an injunction may then be liable to an unlimited fine if held in contempt of court, there is no criminal sanction for breaching section 54 of the MSA.