It is difficult when living in the 21st century in a privileged first world country to connect with the issues of slavery or human trafficking. For most of us these were abhorrent practices that were abolished in this country in 1833. Yet slavery still exists in this day and age, not just in other countries, but in the UK.
In 2015, the employment tribunal in Cambridge heard the disturbing case of Tirkey v Chandok, a case in which the claimant had been recruited overseas in 2008 and brought to Milton Keynes to act as child carer and domestic servant for the Respondents. For 4 years she lived in their house, did not have her own room or a proper bed, was denied access to her passport, was denied access to money, given second hand clothes to wear, worked habitually from 7.00am to 9.00pm without breaks and was on call outside of these hours, she was not afforded holidays, she was restricted from leaving the house or from contacting the outside world and was prevented from learning English. She was a modern day slave, living in Buckinghamshire.
When her relationship with the Respondents broke down and she was dismissed, with assistance she was able to bring claims in the Employment Tribunal and was awarded over £180,000 in respect of unpaid national minimum wage and over £80,000 for various other claims including race and religious discrimination, unfair dismissal and breaches of the Working Time Regulations. We hope she is successful in obtaining payment of her award.
Slavery and human trafficking are global and growing issues. In 2015 the International Labour Organisation estimated there were 21 million people in forced labour.
In 2013 the government began a consultation which resulted in the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Its primary purpose is to ensure that measures are in place to enable and empower law enforcement organisations, to ensure that perpetrators are subjected to criminal prosecution and suitable sentencing whilst providing appropriate protection, compensation and support for victims of human trafficking and slavery. It largely falls within the sphere of criminal law.
However, the Act also makes slavery an issue that must be addressed and excluded by the business world. Section 54 (which came into force on 29 October 2015) requires large businesses to publicly state each year the action they have taken to ensure that their business and supply chains are do not incorporate slavery.
In summary, in respect of financial years ending on or after 31 March 2016, commercial organisations are required to publish a “slavery and human trafficking statement” as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the financial year. For these purposes a “commercial organisation” is one that supplies goods or services, engages in commercial activity in the UK and has a minimum turnover of £36 million per year. A commercial organisation’s turnover is the turnover of that organisation together with the turnover of any subsidiary organisations.
A slavery and human trafficking statement must include either:
- A statement of the steps that the organisation has taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains or in any part of its own business; or
- A statement that the organisation has taken no steps to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its supply chains or its business.
The Home Office has produced guidance on what should and may be included in a slavery and human trafficking statement, which can be viewed here
If the organisation has a website, it must publish the statement on its website and include a link to the statement in a prominent place on its homepage. If the organisation does not have a website it must provide a copy of the statement to anyone who makes a written request for one, within 30 days of receipt of such request. If it has more than one website it should place the statement on all sites which are relevant to the organisation’s business within the UK.
The Secretary of State may compel an organisation to produce a statement if it fails to do so, by injunction and potentially by means of a fine. The real power of the statement is intended to be:
- in the requirement for organisations to examine themselves and their suppliers, to proactively look for slavery or human trafficking and to report it to the appropriate law enforcement bodies if identified so that action can be taken against perpetrators and in support of victims; and
- in the hope that if identified, large organisations will cease to use suppliers or business practices that involve slavery, forced labour or human trafficking; and
- in the reputational damage that would ensue if an organisation failed to produce a statement or produced one which stated it had taken no steps to ensure there was no slavery or trafficking in its supply chains or business.
Commentators have also pointed out that companies that breach human rights obligations may be barred from public procurement processes and may face the risk of civil claims from the victims of slavery or human trafficking violations.
The first publications are expected within 6 months after 31 March 2016 although a clear weakness in the legislation is that there is no fixed time limit for publication of the statement. We expect (or perhaps more accurately, we hope) to see a media backlash if statements are not provided in a timely fashion.
For further information on the issues raised in this article, please contact us on 020 7925 8080 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org