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Growing SMEs and the modern slavery statement

When your company grows, so too do your legal obligations. For example, if you foresee your business making an annual turnover of £36m, then you'll need to start crafting a modern slavery statement. But did you know it should still be on your radar no matter your size?
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The Modern Slavery Act 2015, which detailed the introduction of the modern slavery statement, was brought forward by prime minister Theresa May – home secretary at the time. It proclaimed new penalties, such as life sentences, to those knowingly exploiting people.

The first legislation of its kind in Europe, this Act aims to put slave masters behind bars where they belong,” May wrote at the time. “We have further delivered enhanced protection and support for victims through a world-leading requirement on businesses.”

What she hinted at in the above passage for the Telegraph, is the modern slavery statement – a typed acknowledgement of supply chain transparency, to be published within six months of each financial year-end

Any company with a turnover of £36m or more doing business in the UK will have to secure this statement a location on its website, with a link to it visible from the homepage. The Home Office’s guidance recommended its accompanying text be “Modern Slavery Act Transparency Statement”. 

This is of no concern to an SME then, right? Wrong – for two important reasons. You could scale and find yourself needing a modern slavery statement, the first of which should already mention ways you’ve tackled the issue. And large corporate bosses will need suppliers to meet certain requirements – it doesn’t hurt to know what they’ll be knocking on your door for.

But with there being no mandatory specifics, we unveil some of the basics most have stuck to – using well-known companies as examples.

Acknowledging the issue – Unilever

Each company has been recommended by the government’s Beyond Compliance guide to acknowledge modern slavery and its impact. In this instance, we look to Unilever – and its unveiled statistics highlight how research has been dedicated to the subject.

“According to the ILO there are 21m victims of forced labour. This is unacceptable and must stop. Instances of forced labour take many forms. But each time a person is working or providing a service against their freedom of choice, and cannot leave that work or service without penalty or the threat of penalty, it is forced labour.

“We acknowledge the risk of forced labour occurring in global supply chains. We also know there is more we can do to strengthen our process and oversight in this area. In order for effective and lasting solutions to be found, the root causes of human rights abuses need to be addressed.

“But no one sector can successfully address these issues alone. That is why we will continue to work both bilaterally with our business partners and more widely to create positive change.”

Values – Grant Thornton

Think of the modern slavery statement as a way for consumers to understand your business. Not just by highlighting moral expectations and steps intended for change, but through the policies and values the company is based around as well.

It’s a focus on corporate culture, and, as Grant Thornton demonstrates, sometimes you don’t need a few pages to give it justice.

Our CLEARR values: collaboration, leadership, excellence, agility, respect and responsibility underpin our culture and how we do business. They are embedded throughout our business and set the parameters for how we expect people to behave with their colleagues, clients and the world at large. 

“We seek to treat everyone fairly and consistently, creating a workplace and business environment that is open, transparent and trusted. Our policies and procedures relating to the Modern Slavery Act are in line with our culture and values.”

Read on to see what you can learn from Thames Water, M&S and Tesco when it comes to the modern slavery statement

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business