25m people are estimated to be in modern slavery around the world today

25m people are estimated to be in modern slavery around the world today

Marks & Spencer, Clarks and Tesco are among a raft of brands to have joined the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner in calling on the British Government to take stronger action to eliminate modern slavery in supply chains.

The Commissioner is calling for the creation of a single, central registry for companies' modern slavery statements "as soon as possible" in a bid to improve compliance.

Of the 25m people estimated to be in modern slavery globally, 16m are thought to be working within the private sector, the Commissioner says. "It is therefore vital that businesses take action to eradicate this terrible abuse.

"Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act requires businesses with a turnover of GBP36m or more to publish an annual statement explaining what, if anything, they are doing to address slavery and trafficking within their business and supply chains. Whilst some businesses are showing leadership, compliance with the requirement has been patchy. It is time for this to change."

The signatories to the letter represent a range of interests, including shareholders, non-governmental organisations, businesses, business associations, trade unions and parliamentarians, including the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

They commended the adoption of the Modern Slavery Act and the efforts of the UK Government to "bring the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking onto the world stage, encouraging other countries to combat this exploitation". They also commended the businesses that are showing leadership and making "genuine and concerted efforts" to tackle forced labour in their operations and supply chains.

But added: "Despite impressive action from some companies and sectors, compliance with Section 54 of the Act has been weak. For example, recent reports have found that in 2017 43 of the FTSE 100 and over 40% of the government's top 100 suppliers failed to meet the basic legal requirements of the Act. Additionally, two-thirds of businesses analysed in high risk sectors were found to have produced statements which failed to reference relevant slavery or human trafficking risks."

The letter explains: "The omission of a central repository from the UK's Modern Slavery Act led to the development of two independent, non-government funded registries. Both are identifying and collecting Section 54 statements."

The firms provide three beneficial reasons for a central registry: to reduce business confusion about where to file modern slavery statements; to provide send a clear signal to the private sector that Section 54 is a mandatory legal requirement; and to enable other stakeholders to quickly and easily identify whether a particular company has complied with the Act.

"This is crucial to ensure that Section 54 drives progress on corporate action to tackle modern slavery," they say.

"We believe the Australian Government's inclusion of such a registry, and the UK government's recent successful launch of its Gender Pay Gap Reporting Service website, demonstrate that such a registry is both possible and advisable. We also believe that, in the UK, such a registry could be established as a policy decision rather than requiring primary legislation and that therefore the creation of one should be feasible."