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UK Bribery Act: the blueprint for modern slavery reporting?

26 June 2020: Would following the lead of the UK’s Bribery Act 2010 help to eliminate modern slavery and human trafficking?

Under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the ‘MSA’) any organisation operating in the UK and with an annual turnover of £36m must publish a Section 54 Transparency in Supply Chains Statement annually.

The statement is a means for organisations to identify the risk of slavery or human trafficking occurring within their supply chains, take steps to mitigate risk and then detail what they have done or will do to reduce the risk. It is not a statement or confirmation that slavery does not exist or that they have prevented it, merely that they have assessed whether there is a risk that it could arise. 

As an exercise in evaluating the risk of modern slavery within the supply chain and raising awareness of this risk, the section 54 statements have proved to be a useful and in many cases a painful reminder that slavery is still very much in existence. But is this enough and should organisations be taking a more proactive role in eliminating slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains? 

Why the Bribery Act works

If it is not the organisation’s (i.e. the buyer’s) responsibility, then whose is it? Should the onus remain solely with the supplier? Is there a danger that if a buyer’s (or indeed a consumer’s) only response is to change supplier, then the slavery and human trafficking will still exist. But the buyers and consumers will have washed their hands of the problem.

The UK’s Bribery Act (the ‘Act) is an excellent example of a different approach. The Act includes a corporate offence for failing to prevent bribery. It also provides for the prosecution of any director, manager, secretary or similar officer of the entity for the same offence, if it was committed with that person’s consent or connivance. 

While acknowledging that bribery cannot be eliminated, Section 9 of the Act does say that an organisation should have in place ‘adequate procedures’ to try to prevent bribery occurring and not merely turn a blind eye. Moreover, the Act makes it clear that anyone associated with an organisation should be made aware that bribery will not be tolerated, and this includes agents acting on the organisation’s behalf, not just direct employees.

How it could apply to modern slavery

The approach of the Bribery Act could be combined with the MSA’s requirement for a section 54 statement as the rationale behind this is to enable consumers, investors and other stakeholders to know what an organisation is doing or not doing. If a section 54 statement suggests a lukewarm or non-existent commitment to identifying the risk of modern slavery let alone eradicating it, then consumers and investors can make an informed choice.

So to go back to my original question – Would following the lead of the UK’s Bribery Act 2010 help to eliminate modern slavery and human trafficking? - the answer is a resounding yes. There have not been many prosecutions under the Bribery Act primarily because bribery cases are notoriously complex and take years to investigate. However, its emphasis on making everyone within an organisation responsible and aware of the implications (such as hefty fines and prison) of turning a blind eye can only be to the good. 

You can read a longer version of this article here.