It has been more than two years since the UK set the seal on pioneering legislation when the Modern Slavery Act received Royal Assent. This was the first time a country had introduced a law on transparency in business supply chains. Since then, the waste sector has been responding to what was expected of it, and here we chart both progress and reaction.
There are estimated to be between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of slavery in the UK. In 2015, 289 offences were prosecuted and there was a 40% rise in the number of people referred for support. In the waste sector, for example, investigations are ongoing into alleged illegality after raids last September at two West Midlands scrapyards.
The focus on slavery nearly did not happen because the draft bill had no measures to counter the use of such labour abroad. The Home Office argued that asking businesses to audit and report on modern slavery in their supply chains would be an “additional burden”.
But campaigning secured inclusion, with the then minister stating that the amended legislation sent “the strongest possible message to criminals that if you are involved in this disgusting trade in human beings, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be locked up”.
Other countries are following suit. In February 2017, the French National Assembly adopted similar legislation and Australia’s legislators are assessing the best way to update their laws.
We have now concluded the initial phase of our work, and published our anti-slavery and human trafficking statement. The work does not stop at that. We continue, particularly in our procurement function, to monitor and survey our supply chain regarding this subject.
Carol Nunn, head of legal services, FCC
Kevin Hyland, the UK’s independent anti- slavery commissioner, recently told the Huffington Post that mindsets were starting to change and cultures were beginning to shift. MRW sampled businesses across the waste sector – and their responses are set out here.
Not all businesses are affected by the legislation because four criteria have to be satisfied:
- Annual turnover exceeds £36m
- The business is a corporate body or partnership
- The business has a UK presence
- The business supplies goods or services.
Those that come under the Act must produce a slavery and human trafficking statement at the organisation’s financial year end:
- Setting out steps taken during the financial year within the business and the supply chain – or stating that no action has been taken
- Signed by the board, a director or a designated member
- Published in a prominent position on its website.
We undertake a number of practical steps, which include but are not limited to: undertaking a periodic assessment of our own operations and of our supply chain; completing right to work and other identity checks on new employees; requiring suppliers to complete our modern slavery questionnaire; providing training to line managers. During fy18 we will also introduce an e-learning module.
David Palmer, employee engagement director, Biffa
Valpak’s sales and marketing director Duncan Simpson sees the legislation as a key influence on a company’s relationship with its supply chain and the efforts to avoid damaging revelations. Its mere existence drives better practice.
“The reputation of a brand and trust in that brand is very important,” he said. “If you publish a statement then you have to demonstrate business commitment to that statement. You have to collect the evidence: you need structure and you need evidence. That should then benefit your business rather than being a hindrance.”
Valpak has created its own TRACE (Transparent, Responsible, Accountable, Credible and Ethical) data and support portals to ease the gathering, analysing and reporting of standards and achievements, and to underpin the key aspect of transparency.
Staff are encouraged to report any potential breaches of our anti-slavery and human trafficking policy. This point is emphasised through training programmes and monitoring of suppliers. The industry relies on agency labour, so gathering intelligence around employment practices within these agencies may be effective. Pre-employment screening checks will assist in ensuring that applicants are legally entitled to work in the UK.
Suez UK is firmly in the camp that signs up for reporting anti-slavery efforts. An update of the statement was being prepared as MRW went to press.
Ben Johnson, senior corporate affairs manager, said that managers at every company site and facility are trained to spot clues to enforced work practices, such as a large number of workers arriving in the same vehicle or people offering the same bank account details.
“There are lots of practical alarm bells our managers are trained to look out for,” he said. “We work with an anti-modern slavery organisation called Hope for Justice and they have done the training with us and our managers. We also have regional managers who get about the sites a lot and that is one of the things they look out for.”
It also has an anonymous whistle-blowing hotline, and suppliers over a certain threshold are required to share their own modern slavery statements – and no business will be conducted without them.
Excerpts from UK company statements on modern slavery
We are committed to acting ethically and with integrity in all our business dealings and relationships, and to implementing and enforcing effective systems and controls to seek to ensure modern slavery is not taking place anywhere in our own business or in any of our supply chains.
In 2016, we reviewed what supplies come from high-risk countries according to the Global Slavery Index. By the end of 2017, we will develop the further risk screening tools, including Scorecard and supplier self-assessment questionnaires, in order to escalate and mitigate the risks in our supply chain. In terms of identifying indirect suppliers (for example suppliers of components which form part of equipment purchased by Veolia), each direct supplier is required under our compliance requirements to confirm that their supply sources for any components or labour for their equipment are compliant with the Modern Slavery Act.
Serco uses a human rights assessment and decision tree process as a tool for evaluating any adverse human rights impacts caused or contributed to by our operations, and impacts directly linked to our operations through our business partners and related third parties. Human rights impacts are assessed for existing business operations and markets; along with appropriate due diligence, for new markets, geographies, acquisitions, bids and rebid opportunities; and for business partners and related third parties.
We are absolutely committed to ensuring that there is no modern slavery or human trafficking in our supply chains or in any part of our business, with a zero tolerance for non-compliance. We have mobilised a cross-functional working group to assess and respond to the requirements of the Act with representatives from corporate social responsibility, legal, company secretariat, compliance, procurement and HR. Existing policies and practices are being reviewed and updated with standard form contracts updated to ensure compliance. Direct labour risk assessments are being completed for each business unit.
SuezWe expect all those in our supply chain and contractors to comply with our values. Where possible we prefer to build longstanding relationships with our suppliers and we make clear our expectations of business behaviour. We operate strict procurement processes, ensuring suppliers adhere to clearly defined policies of sustainability and ethical working practices. We expect these entities to have suitable anti‐slavery and human trafficking processes within their businesses and to cascade those policies to their suppliers. Prior to contracting, we carry out risk assessments which are designed to establish and assess areas of potential risk within our supply chains. We require third party contractors to comply with the Modern Slavery Act. Throughout the life cycle of our contracts we reserve the right to conduct audits on our supplier contracts.
Suez in the UK commits to developing and delivering a proactive approach to tackling hidden labour exploitation. We will achieve this by a number of steps: a company statement endorsed by the chief executive and communicated throughout the business; an appropriate policy on preventing hidden labour exploitation which will be reviewed on a regular basis; practical and pragmatic working procedures to support local management in this aim; working closely and engaging with employees and representative bodies as part of preventative strategies.
Renewi (formerly Shanks)
The board acknowledges that the company is exposed to relatively low levels of risk with regards to modern slavery within its own business. However, the company is committed to identifying such risk and putting in place appropriate control measures. The board expects all corporate suppliers, and suppliers within their own supply chain, to take the same anti-slavery and human trafficking stance as the company. Due to the nature of the business of Renewi, it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor compliance with modern slavery principles at the bottom of the supply chain.
Biffa is not required to make a statement until June 2017 in line with our year end.