‘World-leading’ Modern Slavery Act 2015: review confirms more to be done

30 May 2019

The Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 commenced in July 2018 with a remit to consider specific provisions of the Act:

  • the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner;
  • transparency in supply chains;
  • Independent Child Trafficking Advocates; and
  • the legal application of the act.

The final report was published in May 2019.  This follows a series of interim reports on the four themes.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is presented as “world leading” and an example for other countries seeking to do the same. The review confirms that “four years on, many effects of the Act are apparent” – not least that it gives law enforcement agencies the tools to tackle modern slavery offences, including a maximum life sentence for perpetrators and enhanced protection for victims. However, it laments that there are too few convictions being handed down for the new offences prosecuted under the Act and too few Slavery and Trafficking Prevention and Risk Orders in place to restrict offender activity.

In addition, the report confirms that stakeholders involved in the review were clear that the lack of clarity, guidance, monitoring and enforcement in modern slavery statements needed to be addressed to increase compliance and quality.

A series of recommendations are made as to how to improve this landscape and empower law enforcement to do more, the aim of which is to: “enable the Modern Slavery Act to retain, consolidate and develop its status as a world-leading piece of legislation.”

The 80 recommendations include:

  • those relating to the role and remit of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (the recently appointed Sara Thornton);
    • including to monitor and review the outcomes of prosecutions and appeals to ensure the Courts are not taking an overly narrow interpretation of what constitutes trafficking
  • steps to embed modern slavery reporting into business culture including;
    • reform to include a requirement for companies to refer to their modern slavery statement in their annual reports; and,
    • the extension of transparency in supply chains reporting requirements to the public sector
  • further ways to hold Company Directors to account including a proposal for failure to fulfil modern slavery statement reporting requirements or to act when instances of slavery are found to be an offence under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986; and
  • more effective use of proceeds of crime powers, such as the new Unexplained Wealth Order and Freezing Orders accompanied by more appropriate resourcing for financial investigations.

The government is considering the review’s recommendations and will respond formally in due course. The report confirms its view that some recommendations could be implemented straight away, whereas others may need legislative reform.

Our upcoming series of Modern Slavery Act Review blogs will examine the key themes addressed in the report with a particular focus on the legal application of the Modern Slavery Act and transparency in supply chains.

Further information

Should you have any questions about the issues covered in this blog, please contact a member of our Business and Human Rights group.

About the authors

Sophie Kemp is a partner in the Public Law team. She is an experienced public lawyer, advising on major public inquiries, judicial review, and modern slavery and human rights. Sophie leads the firm’s Business and Human Rights group. She is deeply involved in advising business on human rights issues, particularly compliance with Modern Slavery legislation, best practice and emerging norms. Sophie has delivered a number of talks with the Home Office on the Modern Slavery Act 2015 with the aim of promoting this ground breaking legislation to the business community and public sector.

Katherine Tyler is a senior associate (barrister) in the Criminal Litigation team. She is well recognised in the field of Business and Human Rights and is a founder and co-chair of the Business and Human Rights Practitioners’ Network. Katherine’s experience in this field includes working with and lecturing NGOs and law firms on issues of corporate responsibility and liability for human rights abuses and environmental harm as well as issues arising in BHR and she has worked with and lectured NGOs and law firms on issues of corporate responsibility and liability for human rights abuses and environmental harm. Katherine's practice encompasses public law matters and she has acted in judicial review proceedings for regulators, private organisations and professional associations.

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