UK targets modern slavery in public sector

By Shannon Jenkins

September 24, 2019

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The UK government will implement new measures to tackle modern slavery in its supply chains, says the Cabinet Office.

In a statement last week, the CO said the government should use its huge buying power to prevent modern slavery in public sector supply chains, without burdening businesses or officials.

It plans to issue new guidance for government commercial practitioners at all levels, to help identify and manage modern slavery risks in existing contracts and new procurement activity, and an “innovative assessment tool” for departments to use with their suppliers to identify risks will be implemented.

The government will also partner with the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply to offer online training to commercial officials across government on how to identify and report modern slavery.

Victoria Atkins, Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, said the issue was a top priority for the government.

“Modern slavery is a truly horrific crime and the government is committed to stopping it wherever and however it occurs. It’s dreadful to think that the products and services we use could, however indirectly, have involved exploitation in their supply chains,” she said. 

“This guidance will help public sector bodies to mitigate that risk so that public money is not used to enable exploitation.”

Section 54 of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires commercial organisations with operations in the UK and an annual turnover of more than £36 million (roughly $66 million) to publish a modern slavery statement every year. The government will publish its own modern slavery statement in December outlining its achieved and planned actions to identify and prevent slavery in central government supply chains.

From 2021, individual ministerial departments will also publish their own annual statements. The Home Office is researching ways to strengthen transparency in supply chains legislation, including extending the transparency requirements to the public sector and improving the quality of statements.

Australia has its own guide to reporting modern slavery, under the Modern Slavery Act 2018. The act requires entities based or operating in Australia (including Commonwealth corporate entities) that have an annual consolidated revenue of more than $100 million to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, and steps to address them. The Commonwealth is required to report on behalf of non‑corporate Commonwealth entities. 

Gareth Rhys Williams, Government Chief Commercial Officer of the CO, said the new policy and guide would be useful to both the public and private sectors in identifying and eliminating modern slavery.

“It has been developed in consultation with experts from inside and outside government, so I hope that the tools in it will also be useful for the private sector. Tackling modern slavery is a shared endeavour, and one we must work on urgently,” he said.

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