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Government delays modern slavery statement publication

28 May 2020: the Home Office has confirmed that organisations can delay publication of their modern slavery statements by up to six months, but they will need to explain why.

 In new guidance on reporting modern slavery in supply chains, the government has confirmed that businesses will be allowed to delay the publication of their modern slavery statement for up to six months without risking a penalty if, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, they are unable to prepare the report in time.

Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 organisations with an annual turnover of over £36m must prepare and publish an annual Section 54 Transparency in Supply Chains Statement within six months of their financial year end. 

In recognition that the coronavirus pandemic may make this more challenging, the Home Office has confirmed that the publication of an organisation’s modern slavery statement may be delayed. However, if an organisation does postpone publication, it must state in the delayed statement why it has not been published within the statutory timeframe: for example, because of staff shortages and reduced capacity.

The Home Office guidance emphasises that the response to the pandemic such as lockdown, travel restrictions, new suppliers and the demand for new items (such as PPE) may mean that an organisation faces new or increased modern slavery risks in the supply chain. 

Furthermore, the pandemic may increase the risk of slavery in many settings. Organisations should perform a new risk assessment to reconsider whether risks previously identified still apply and if there are any new risks. As a result of this, priorities may change but an organisation should still ensure that all those who need to know (from the board of directors down) are fully informed about new or heightened risks and how to respond. This reassessment should be referred to in the statement when it is eventually published.

Commenting on the new guidance Dr Jane Berney, Manager, Business Law, at ICAEW said that the statement “may be delayed but not avoided”.

“This does not give organisations an excuse to forget about slavery or to avoid assessing the risk of slavery within their supply chain,” said Berney. “You can delay publishing your Section 54 Transparency in Supply Chains Statement but don’t delay assessing any new or heightened risks of slavery.”