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Modern slavery: nothing to do with me?

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 14 Jun 2022

The combination of existing skills and new tools means that ICAEW members can play a pivotal role in the fight against modern slavery, say Dipak Vashi and Hope Sherwin.

Did you know that there are more than 130,000 people trapped in conditions of slavery in the UK? And the nationality of victims most commonly passed to the government’s Modern Slavery national referral mechanism is British. This is a very real issue that is happening right now across the country – but accountants are in a unique position to help tackle it.

Modern slavery is an insidious and cruel crime, which occurs with frequency across the UK and beyond. Many victims are forced to work for little or no pay in small businesses, typically cash-based companies involved in manual work. ICAEW members, though, are in a privileged position, able to see the nuts and bolts of a client’s business and therefore able to spot potential signs of modern slavery.

Would you be able to spot the signs? Have you ever noticed something a little bit odd in a client’s activities? A business with output that is far higher than official staffing records? Unusual or unexplained business activities? Payments to staff who appear not to exist?

If you did spot the signs, what would you do about it? 

Modern slavery is a financial crime. It is a predicate offence to money laundering. But it is also a human rights abuse. The current system, however, is broken; it does not encourage ICAEW members and auditors to spot and report instances of modern slavery. It should come as no surprise to learn that accountants are not at the forefront of fighting the problem.

We are not suggesting that ICAEW members have the sole responsibility for tackling this crime – far from it. A joined-up, multi-stakeholder approach is required that includes law enforcement, government, charities and business. 

In March this year, the UK government, in partnership with the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and Themis, launched a free-to-use anti-slavery digital learning tool. This provides guidance and training on what modern slavery is, how to spot it and what to do when you find it. This training includes a section specifically for accountants, which includes expert insights from the ICAEW team.

ICAEW has also produced information relating to Modern Slavery that provides information on red flags, how to meet regulatory requirements and how accountants can go beyond compliance to take more of a proactive advocacy role in tackling this crime.

With new tools available and utilising the skills ICAEW members already possess, our approach to this crime can be transformed. The key message is: silence is not an option.

Dipak Vashi is Technical Manager, Financial Services at ICAEW and Hope Sherwin is Head of Social Impact at Themis

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