The Government is going to introduce significant changes to the duty to produce a modern slavery statement.

We outline below the four main changes and explain how you can prepare your business for the changes ahead.

Government proposals

In its ‘Response to the Consultation on Transparency in Supply Chains’ published in September 2020, the Government confirmed that it would implement four main changes to the duty to publish a modern slavery statement:

  • The duty will be extended to public-sector employers
  • The areas that a modern slavery statement must cover will become mandatory
  • A universal annual reporting period and reporting deadline will apply to all employers
  • Employers will be required to publish their modern slavery statements on a government reporting website

Each of these changes will be outlined in detail below.

Please note that:

  • All the proposed changes will apply to England and Wales
  • All changes apart from the first (extension of the duty to public sector organisations) will apply to Scotland, as they will consult separately on this issue
  • These changes will not affect Northern Ireland

Once the proposed legislative changes are implemented, the Government will publish updated guidance for employers covering the new measures.

Extension of the duty to public sector organisations

The current position 

Organisations that carry out business in the UK, supply goods and services, and have a total annual turnover of £36 million or more are under a legal duty to produce a modern slavery statement.

This applies to all organisations, including public bodies and charities if they satisfy the above requirements.

The changes 

The legal duty to publish a modern slavery statement will be extended to public bodies with a total annual budget of £36 million or more.

This may affect central government departments, police forces, NHS bodies and local authorities.

Public bodies may fulfil their duty by publishing a ‘group statement’, where appropriate.

For example, a government department could publish a group modern slavery statement with their associated bodies.

In line with the legal requirements for commercial organisations, the accounting officer, chief executive or other relevant roles will be required to sign of the public body’s modern slavery statement, and the senior management body must approve it.

The Government has stated that it will publish guidance to assist public bodies in determining whether they will be covered by the new legislation and if they fall under the duty, how they can produce their statement.

How to prepare for the changes

If you are a public body, you should determine whether you are likely to be affected by this extension and look out for further government guidance which will assist you with this.

If you decide that your organisation is likely to fall under the extended duty, you could begin to think about drafting a modern slavery statement.

You could do this by communicating with the relevant internal departments and getting together information about your anti-slavery processes.

As ministerial government departments have begun voluntarily submitting their own modern slavery statements, you could use these as a reference point when putting together your modern slavery statement.

Mandatory areas that modern slavery statements must cover

The current position 

The current legislation suggests six areas which a modern slavery statement should address. These are:

  • The organisation’s structure, business and supply chains
  • The organisation’s slavery and human trafficking policies
  • The organisation’s due diligence processes related to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains
  • Parts of the organisation’s business and supply chains which have a risk of slavery and human trafficking and the measures it has implemented to assess and manage this risk
  • The organisation’s effectiveness in preventing slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains, measured against appropriate performance indicators
  • The training about slavery and human trafficking that is available to the organisation’s staff

The changes

The legislation will be changed so that these six areas become mandatory and must be covered by all modern slavery statements.

Organisations which fail to report on any of the above areas must clearly state this in their modern slavery statements and will be urged to explain the reason for this.

All six areas will be retained, but the framework may be altered, for example, some areas may be combined, and additional areas may be introduced.

How to prepare for the changes  

If your organisation is already under the duty to publish a modern slavery statement, you could review the contents of your existing statement to check whether you are reporting on all six areas.

If your organisation has not addressed any of the areas, you could consider how to include them in the future or if this is not feasible, be prepared to justify this in your statement.

Similarly, if you expect your organisation will fall under the extended duty, you could think about how to report on each of the six required areas.

A universal annual reporting period and deadline

The current position 

Organisations are required to publish a modern slavery statement for each financial year but there is no set deadline for publication.

The Government simply advises that the statement is produced within 6 months of the end of the organisation’s financial year.

The Government released guidance in April 2020, allowing organisations to delay their statement for up to 6 months due to disruption caused by the coronavirus.

The changes 

A single annual reporting period will be applied to all organisations.

This means that all organisations will be required to publish a modern slavery statement which reports on the period between 1 April to 31 March.

The deadline for publishing modern slavery statements will be 30 September, which is 6 months after the reporting period.

The Government is considering the enforcement of this deadline in relation to the Single Enforcement Body for employment rights, and it is possible that monetary penalties will be introduced.

How to prepare for the changes 

It is not yet clear when the annual reporting period and deadline will be introduced but, at the earliest, the first reporting period will be 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022, with the deadline of 30 September 2022.

If your organisation has never had to produce a modern slavery statement before, you could choose to publish one for April 2020 to March 2021, as a test run before the new legislation is introduced.

A helpful way to prepare for the annual reporting period and the deadline is to consider the issues you have faced in relation to gender pay gap reporting, as this will be a similar process.

It is important to consider the reputational issues that may arise from the heightened public scrutiny that a single deadline is likely to create.

You could communicate with your media and publicity department to ensure that the modern slavery statement shows the organisation in a positive light and to prepare for any potential backlash. 

Government-run reporting website

The current position 

Organisations are required to publish their modern slavery statement on their own website through a link on a prominent place of the homepage.

The changes

Organisations will be required to publish their modern slavery statements on a Government-run reporting service.

There is a strong chance that the statements will be collected in a similar way to gender pay gap reporting, whereby employers submit their gender pay gap reports through a portal on the government website.

How to prepare for the changes

Look out for the introduction of the government-run reporting service and be prepared to publish your modern slavery statement through this as well as reporting on your website.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.