The UK Modern Slavery Act

The UK Modern Slavery Act passed into law in March 2015 with further guidance produced Oct 2015. The Act contains some significant measures to prevent exploitation including forced labour and trafficking. In particular it:

  • Defines clearly the offences of forced labour and trafficking and how others might be considered complicit in these forms of exploitation.
  • Establishes reporting requirements for companies relating to efforts to combat forced labour and trafficking.
  • Sees the establishment of a Slavery Commissioner to oversee efforts to prevent Modern Slavery.

Modern Slavery

This is a term that is increasingly being used to describe forced labour and trafficking. The use of the word slavery, which is loaded with connotations has advantages and disadvantages. It helps to galvanize governments, business, and civil society to demand change, to amend laws to prosecute those involved. The disadvantage is that this same rhetoric conjures up images of the worst visions of slavery, of imprisonment, of padlocks and chains. The reality is that modern slavery is seldom like that. Instead it is about exploitation of vulnerabilities, is often financial in nature and is an integral part of many supply chains. The extreme vision of slavery can therefore also serve to divert attention from the reality and from the business models that make exploitation a systemic issue in a range of sectors.


It’s common to think of trafficking as being about moving people across borders, often in a clandestine manner for exploitation – often women or children, often for sexual exploitation.

A more sophisticated understanding is that really trafficking contains 3 key elements.

Movement – Coercion – Exploitation

  • Movement – A person is moved, transported, recruited or received (this does not have to be across borders)
  • Coercion this might be by force but is more commonly by fraud, deception, by means of financial imperative or debt
  • Exploitation – this might indeed be for forms of prostitution but also includes forced labour

Forced Labour

Extracting work or service from another by threat or under the menace of penalty.

This will usually involve some form of coercion causing an inability to end the situation. The ILO has identified six main indicators of forced labour

  • Physical or sexual violence (threat of and/or actual harm)
  • Restriction on movement
  • Physical or sexual violence (threat of and/or actual harm)
  • Restriction on movement
  • Bonded labour
  • Withholding of wages
  • Retention of passports and identity documents
  • Threat of denunciation to the authorities

Types and degrees of exploitation are seldom fixed however and the reality of forced labour is therefore very fluid. It can perhaps be best understood as a

continuum of exploitative experiences and situations”

a range of experiences from low-level exploitation perhaps around pay and conditions through to more egregious abuse.

Transparency in Supply Chains Reporting

A key component of the legislation concerns company reporting. Companies with a turnover of over £36 million undertaking any business in the UK, even if not headquartered there, are required to publish an annual “slavery and human trafficking statement.” The statement should reflect what efforts, if any, a company has made during the previous financial year to ensure that its business operations, and its supply chain, are free from slavery and human trafficking.

The slavery and human trafficking statement must be approved and signed by a company’s top management. For corporations, the statement must be approved by the Board of Directors and signed by a Director. The statement must then be published on the company’s website.

The Act does not set out what form a slavery and human trafficking statement must take. Instead it sets out six suggestions as to what information should be included:

  • The organisation’s structure, business and its supply chains
  • Its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking
  • Its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains
  • The parts of its business and supply chain where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk
  • Its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate
  • The training about slavery and human trafficking available to its workforce