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Modern Slavery Act to see NGOs take lead role in policing corporate construction

With supply chain transparency requirements under the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 now in effect, and the first ‘slavery and human trafficking statements’ published by organisations under the reporting obligation, NGOs’ focus on the construction sector is likely to intensify.

The act itself has little legal bite if companies fail to report on what they are doing to ensure modern slavery is not occurring in their business or supply chains – sanctions for non-compliance are limited to an injunction compelling them to report.

Instead, the primary drivers for compliance include action by civil society, the press, trade unions, consumers and shareholders.

Corporate policing

In effect, human rights-based NGOs have been unofficially mandated to police corporate compliance, with a number of high-profile construction-related examples from organisations such as Amnesty International evident to date.

Those required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement should be aware of the leading role the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) is taking in relation to supply chain transparency.

In the absence of a government-sponsored central repository of published statements, they have developed their own ‘register’ of statements. As of early April 2016, the BHRRC has published details of 83 statements, 75 of which appear to have been made to comply with section 54 of the act.

The BHRRC’s analysis of these statements shows the majority fall short of the requirements of s54 (either not being signed by a director or equivalent or not being linked prominently from the organisation’s home page) and only 19 report on all six criteria set out in s54(5) (although this is not a mandatory requirement).

Named and shamed

The register provides a ready source of statements to benchmark against, but also serves a public shaming function for those publishing inadequate or non-compliant statements.

More on modern slavery: Check out our in-depth look at what contractors must do to tackle the problem

Aside from the public accountability role NGOs may play, it is important to recognise the value they can bring to the table as knowledge experts to assist organisations to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains.

For example, organisations can collaborate with NGOs to assist with risk assessments, verify supplier compliance with labour standards, and to provide unique insight into local conditions. NGOs can also be engaged to deliver training to organisations and suppliers on labour standards and best practice.

NGOs are more than able – and in many cases actively willing – to fulfil this broader role, but this also requires an open approach by those operating in the construction sector.

Brett Hartley is a senior associate at Clyde & Co

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