Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires commercial organisations with a minimum annual total turnover of £36 million to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year. The statement must set out the steps that the organisation has taken during the financial year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any of its supply chains or in its own business; or state that the organisation has taken no such steps. The Government has published guidance for businesses affected by the requirement.
Although there is no firm deadline for publishing the statement, the guidance makes it clear that it expected this to happen “as soon as reasonably practicable” after the end of the financial year for which it has been produced, and would “encourage organisations to report within six months of the organisation’s financial year end”. Many of those businesses operating a financial year-end of April 2016 will therefore have been working to a publication timetable of September or October 2016.
Indeed, a number of businesses, particularly in the retail sector, have already published their first statements. As might be expected from such a new initiative, the statements vary significantly in length, content and quality. While over 80 statements were reviewed by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre earlier this year, only around 20 met all of the formal requirements (such as being linked to on the company's website homepage), and less than 10 of those also covered all six of the key points listed in the guidance.
Of those businesses that have yet to publish, some may view the lack of criminal or civil penalties as providing little incentive to comply with the recommended timescales. However, the possibility of negative publicity may end up costing non-compliant businesses more, in the long run, than any fine.