Anti-Slavery Day 2016: considerations and opportunities for business

LexisNexis Legal & Professional, Business Insight Solutions, 18 October 2016

Today is the 10th EU Anti-Trafficking Day which coincides with the UK's Anti-Slavery Day. With 45.8 million people in modern slavery this day of awareness is a good moment to reflect and take action to help your business drive positive change.

According to the 2016 Trafficking In Persons report (by the US State Department) almost 78,000 victims of human trafficking were identified globally in 2015. The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates 45.8 million people are victims of modern slavery. This would suggest that currently less than 0.2% of victims are identified. These stark figures suggest that modern slavery is rife and victim identification and reporting needs huge improvement.

The power of business

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates there are 150 million migrant workers around the world. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labour. Businesses can play their part in eradicating modern slavery by protecting the people working in their operations and supply chains

Redefined expectations top-down

Following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) centred on economic, social, and environmental development by world leaders at the UN General Assembly in September 2015, Alliance 8.7 was launched the following September. This global, multi-stakeholder alliance has committed to eradicating forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour by 2030. Alliance 8.7 will focus on accelerating timelines, conducting research and sharing knowledge, driving innovation and improving resources.

At a launch event in New York, the role of business was reiterated: Linda Kromjong, Secretary-General of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) which is globally recognised as the voice of business, spoke about the commitment of the business community to the issue. She addressed the responsibilities and challenges for employers to better understand and identify the risk of labour exploitation, particularly with regard to their supply chains.

A changing legal landscape

This month also sees another key moment for anti-slavery: any UK business big enough to comply with the 2015 Modern Slavery Act with a year-end of 31st March 2016 is required to publish a modern slavery and human trafficking statement by 30th September 2016. In May Ergon analysed the first 239 statements published of which 69% were by UK companies and 31% by companies based elsewhere in the world. Although not a hard deadline, the UK Government's Guidance "encourages organisations to report within six months of the organisation's financial year end.

On 1st October the UK Modern Slavery Act statement registry by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre included 700 statements, from 24 countries and 28 sectors. With an estimated 12,000 companies needing to publish a statement there are plenty of companies yet to respond.

Race to the top: leader or loser?

The Act is intended to create a 'race to the top' amongst business. The media is already praising businesses that take a lead (e.g. John Lewis, Intel and Ford). Shareholders, investors, NGOs and others will likely scrutinise businesses that do not publish a statement or one focused on compliance rather than concrete action.

Businesses can commit to tackling modern slavery by putting an action plan in place today that will demonstrate leadership before Anti-Slavery Day 2017.