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Modern Slavery Act 2015

Volume 771: debated on Wednesday 13 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to monitor companies’ compliance with Part 6 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 regarding transparency in the supply chain.

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, for the Question. I am aware of the strong interest she has always expressed in the transparency provisions in Part 6 of the Modern Slavery Act, and I believe she recently held a round table with a number of NGOs, businesses and other Peers in order to discuss these matters. Pursuant to Section 54(9) of the Modern Slavery Act, guidance for business has been published to help organisations comply with the requirements of the transparency measures in Part 6 of the Act. This includes the requirement to place a link to a statement on their website or, if they have no website, to make it available within 30 days of a request. Organisations failing to comply with their duty will face mounting consumer and investor pressure. If an organisation fails to comply, the Secretary of State may secure a court order.

I thank the noble and learned Lord for his response. The Home Office guidance on transparency in the supply chain states that the Government expect,

“organisations to build on their statements”,

and “improve” them “over time”. Can the Minister assure the House that a robust monitoring process has been established that supports this ambition and that there is a strategy for making accurate and accessible information free and readily available to members of the public, NGOs and other interested parties?

There never was an intention to establish any central monitoring system with respect to these provisions. The idea was that there should be far more carrot than stick, and that peer pressure should be brought to bear on companies in order that they address their responsibilities. This was not intended to be some sort of tick-box mechanism whereby they simply put a form into a central repository. However, every company or organisation will be required to have a prominent place on their website to which members of the public may go to establish that the statement required by Part 6 has been made.

What progress is being made towards having a national website on which every business that has to have this message can put it?

The anti-slavery commissioner plays a crucial role in tackling modern-day slavery. Given that, will my noble friend please outline plans for the anti-slavery commissioner to be directly involved in the implementation of Part 6 of the Act, with particular reference to work encouraging businesses in this race to the top?

I wonder whether the noble Baroness will allow me to write to her on the position of the commissioner, because I am not aware of his precise role in the implementation of Part 6, as distinct from his other roles.

My Lords, if peer pressure does not work—by which I assume the Government mean that people do not stop using firms that are still exploiting labour as part of the supply chain—are we getting the loud and clear message from the Government today that they do not actually intend to do anything themselves?

That is not so. As has been made clear, the Government are committed to reviewing the transparency and supply chain regulations over a five-year period and have already established a two-year internal research programme to look at the effectiveness of the provisions, which will be monitored and considered. They have to be given an opportunity to work. We are in the vanguard of these developments: they were proposed in California, and we were the first country to follow suit with similar provisions, wider in their terms even than California’s. Other countries are looking with interest at the direction in which we have taken this matter.

What steps are the Government taking to eradicate modern slavery from supply chains, following the recent report by the British Medical Association which uncovered evidence of endemic abuses of labour rights in the medical gloves sector, which is within the Government’s own supply chain?

The United Kingdom Government successfully campaigned to establish the first ever UN target for ending modern slavery: sustainable development goal 8.7, which was adopted in 2015 and requires Governments to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour and end modern slavery and human trafficking. In 2015, the United Kingdom also became the third country in the world to ratify the International Labour Organization’s forced labour protocol, which commits to ending forced labour. Steps are being taken by the Home Office and other government departments to ensure the clarity of their supply chain.

My Lords, how does the Minister square what he has said to the House about not having a central repository in which people can find out exactly what the interests are of those involved in supply chains, with what his predecessor said when we debated an amendment I moved a year ago in your Lordships’ House? His predecessor said,

“we want to see these statements in one place so that people can monitor and evaluate them to ensure that the intended action takes place”.—[Official Report, 25/2/15; col. 1750.]

How does the Minister square what he told the House with what the anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, said, which was quoted during those debates—

“I can confirm I fully support the suggestion of a website as the central repository for reports”—

and the evidence given to the House when the California experience failed because of the inability to have such a central website?

The Government have always been clear that it is for others to establish such a mechanism. We are aware of a number of organisations that propose to set up a central repository. Indeed, I understand that Unseen and the Business & Human Rights Resources Centre have collaborated to develop a central repository for transparency statements linked to the enhanced Modern Slavery Helpline, to be launched later this year.

My Lords, have the Government ensured that if they take discriminatory action against such companies, they will not fall foul of any European Union legislation?