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Small business owners must know modern slavery obligations

modern slaveryl

Some FSB members may have heard about the Modern Slavery Act 2015, a relatively new piece of legislation that came into force this year and one that has a specific section addressing UK businesses. 

While Section 54 speaks directly to firms trading in the UK with an annual turnover greater than £36 million and therefore most FSB members will not be affected, you may be asked by your clients or customers who are now required to provide an annual Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement, confirming that there are no forced labourers and/or trafficked persons working in their business or supply chain. 

If your client or customer meets the financial threshold, as their supplier, they will be asking you to clarify your company’s procedures and confirm that there are no forced labourers and/or trafficked persons working in your business. 

Given this new legal requirement, the following are some steps you can take as a business owner and as a citizen to ensure you do your bit to help eradicate modern slavery from the UK. 

Do a risk assessment 

Assess every inch of your business and work out who’s working for you. Consider all types of workers, from full-timers to seasonal staff. Ensure your workers are being paid at least the appropriate minimum wage and are not subjected to excessive working hours or unsafe working conditions. 

Ensure you know who’s working on your behalf

For those that use agency, seasonal or temporary staff, ask the agent for proof that the workers have a legal right to work in the UK. 

Sometimes, recruitment agencies are targeted by illegal gangmasters offering a ready supply of labour. Ask them about additional measures they have put in place since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Home Office has produced a factsheet on modern slavery for the recruitment industry, which provides useful information and will inform your conversation. 

Spread the word

Modern slavery in the UK will only end if everyone is aware it exists and what to do, if suspected. As employers, you have a responsibility to inform your staff of your company’s HR policies and procedures. 

Considering how your company addresses the risks associated with forced labourers or trafficked persons may become a business imperative for you in years to come, given its rapid ascension up the UK’s political agenda during 2016. 

The Home Office has produced a number of factsheets and posters for certain high-risk industries. If you work in the agriculture, construction, food, food processing, hospitality, manufacturing and recruitment sectors, you should consider using them get up to speed on how to spot and address modern slavery.  

Don't be complicit

In strained economic times, we all appreciate saving money here and there but think twice about patronising companies that offer products or services at ridiculously low prices. Some of the sectors where forced labourers and trafficked persons have been found in the UK are car washes, nail salons, tarmacking and hospitality, to name a few.  
When you are procuring good or services, think about the price and, if you can, look at the workers providing the service. The Home Office’s ‘Spot the Signs’ webpage identifies seven things to look out for.

Be aware

Many of the enslaved people working in the UK are working behind closed doors and are forced into crimes such as prostitution, cannabis cultivation and pickpocketing against their own will. Some are also domestic servants working for couples or families. If you suspect that someone is being exploited, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.  

Désirée Abrahams is an independent consultant and Director of Day Associates
www.daconsult.org