United Kingdom Anti-Slavery Commissioner Calls for “Naming and Shaming” of Firms with Slave Labor in Supply Chains

Since 2015, the United Kingdom Modern Slavery Act 2015 has provided government agencies with a wide array of authority to combat human trafficking, slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labor.  That authority includes criminal offenses with substantial terms of imprisonment, confiscation of assets, judicially imposed slavery and trafficking reparation orders, prevention orders, and risk orders, as well as various protections for slavery or trafficking victims.

Recently, Dame Sara Thornton, the United Kingdom Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC), reportedly called for the United Kingdom Parliament to enact legislation that would authorize the “naming and shaming” of firms “if slavery or criminal labour exploitation is uncovered at any stage in their supply chain.”  In an interview with The Times, Thornton argued that “[e]vidence from around the world shows that naming and shaming can have a real impact on business practices. The upcoming Employment Bill provides a timely opportunity for parliament to consider how to incentivise business to do the right thing.”

Thornton and Matthew Taylor, the former United Kingdom director of Labour Market Enforcement, made clear that they “want companies named and shamed as a deterrent, even if they were unaware of mistreatment. They said that this would encourage businesses to check what was happening at every stage of their chain.”  Taylor added that

“Everyone would be outed — no one is suggesting that the companies at the top of the supply chain are involved [in illegal practices]. But that it has taken place in their supply chain almost certainly means that they could have done more.

“Maybe they’re two or three steps removed. The point is it is not good enough to look at the next step in the supply chain, they need to be sure of what is happening all the way through.”

The prospects for inclusion of Thornton’s and Taylor’s proposals in the Employment Bill are not clear.  Nonetheless, companies doing business in the United Kingdom should take the opportunity to review their Modern Slavery Act compliance programs, with particular attention to the robustness of their oversight and internal controls relating to supply chain relationships.

It is unfortunate that, as the IASC stated in her most recent report, “prosecutions for offences under the Modern Slavery Act remain low and have been decreasing.”  Nonetheless, no company can afford to risk reputational damage if it becomes publicly associated with supply-chain partners’ forced-labor practices that it could have detected with reasonable diligence.

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