Modern Slavery Act finally comes in to force

01 Jan 1970 1:00 am by Mark Dunn

The Modern Slavery Act has come into force in England and Wales and with it comes powerful new custodial sentences for offenders.  From today, those convicted of acts of slavery in England and Wales will be subject to a maximum sentence of lifetime imprisonment.

Whilst the concept of slavery might be considered a relic of older times, it has never been more relevant to the current day.  Migrants in Calais are in the news as they try to enter England, risking their lives on a daily basis by gaining illicit lifts on Lorries.  Meanwhile thousands of Africans are leaving the continent on boats that are often not seaworthy to make a perilous crossing to Europe that many of them will not achieve alive.

Defining slavery in the modern day

Whilst many might argue that these are cases of economic migration and not truly cases of slavery, a consistent theme in the stories of those travelling around the world is the payment of monies in exchange for passage.  It is impossible to know how many migrants will need to work off their passage if and when they reach the promised lands but what is clear is that the level of organisation involved in the transport of people from one part of the world to another defines this activity as an industry.

This raises an important issue: what defines slavery today?  Clearly the chains and ropes of previous centuries have gone, but where coercion to commit certain acts takes place, surely slavery exists?  And those arriving in a country without documentation or access to facilities are likely to be the most vulnerable to modern slavery.

The Home Office estimates that there are upwards of 13,000 people enslaved in the UK.  The Home Office and NSPCC Modern Slavery website ( categorises current day slavery into child trafficking, forced labour, sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation and domestic servitude.

The impact on business

Just two days ago, Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking on a trade visit to Vietnam, outlined some of the implications for business of the global slave trade.  From October, companies with a turnover of £36 million or more will face tougher sanctions if they do not ensure that they are doing everything they can to eradicate slavery and trafficking from their supply chains.  The companies will be required to publish an annual statement demonstrating what they are doing to ensure slave labour is not being used in their supply chain.

For many years the supply chain has been the Achilles Heel for businesses.  It has become increasingly difficult for companies to turn a blind eye to the provenance of the products that they distribute and sell.  Modern businesses are recognising the importance of having a transparent supply chain – not just their suppliers, but those that supply the suppliers as well.  As outlined in a previous blog, the impact of having limited control over the long tail of a supply chain can have a serious impact on the company's reputation.

From October 2015 it will be a matter of law and there will be no hiding place for businesses complicit - either actively or passively - in modern slavery.

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