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Empowering consumer brands: the significance of modern slavery statements

In an era of heightened consciousness and ethical consumerism, the issue of modern slavery has gained significant attention. This year the number of potential modern slavery victims in England and Wales hit record highs. Meanwhile, consumers are increasingly demanding transparency and ethical practices from the brands they support.

Back in 2015, the UK implemented legislation (the Modern Slavery Act) requiring commercial organisations to publish modern slavery statements in which they publicly outline the steps they are taking to eradicate forced labour and exploitation within their supply chains, and demonstrating compliance with the minimum legal requirements. The statement must be updated each year, and signed by a director (or equivalent) of the organisation. It must also be clearly visible on the organisation’s website.

Effective statements contain significant detail about the internal policies and procedures in place in order to prevent modern slavery playing any part in their business, and should consider including: the organisational structure and supply chains; policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking; due diligence processes; risk assessment and management; key performance indicators to measure the effectiveness of steps being taken; and training on modern slavery and trafficking.

An organisation can use its modern slavery statement to show it is acting transparently and disclosing information about any modern slavery risks it has identified and what actions it has taken in response to them, in order to demonstrate progress to address any risks to improve outcomes for the organisation’s works and supply chains.

Disappointingly, however, last year only 29% of those organisations required to produce a modern slavery statement submitted it to the UK Government registry, launched by the Home Office. This suggests that the Government should do much more to ensure compliance, if they are genuinely committed to eradicating modern slavery within UK organisations.

However, given that consumer trust is paramount in an increasingly competitive marketplace, and at a time when businesses are increasingly concerned with meeting ESG requirements, this shortfall is curious. Better-informed consumers are more likely to support responsible brands, with this in mind the production of a detailed modern slavery statement reflecting a genuine commitment to eradicating modern slavery is a straightforward way of allowing consumer brands to establish a reputation for integrity, reliability and social responsibility.

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