New Government Guidance
The Government and specifically the Home office has published guidance for on how businesses should be addressing and reporting on modern slavery risks during the coronavirus pandemic. The guidance can be found here.
Importantly the Government recognises that COVID-19 presents logistical and practical challenges for business in fulfilling the legal requirement to publish a compliant modern slavery statement within six months of their financial year end. In light of the unprecedented challenges the Government has announced that businesses which need to delay their next modern slavery statement by up to six months as a result of these pressures will not be penalised.
However the Government has set out that businesses wishing to delay will have to set out in their statement why the delay was necessary and it is clear that business should only delay the publishing of their annual modern slavery statement if they have good reason to do so. The Government will no doubt be looking closely at the reasons put forward by companies in assessing compliance with Section 54 Modern Slavery Act 2015 and whether any penalties or action should be levied.
In addition the Government has highlighted the need to assess the risks posed by COVID-19 in the context of modern slavery. Businesses will still need to report on the actions that they have taken during this period. Work to address new or increased risks may take precedence over previously planned activities and may mean that businesses are not able to meet the goals set in earlier modern slavery statements. Businesses should use their next statement to demonstrate how they monitored their risks during this period and adapted their activities and priorities in response.
The Government has stressed the need for businesses to 'continue their activity to identify and address risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. As well as focusing on the health and safety of their workers, businesses will need to consider how fluctuations in demand and changes in their operating model may lead to new or increased risks of labour exploitation'.
Expert Opinion"The key to successfully navigating this difficult time in the context is of Modern Slavery is to risk assess, record any necessary actions or key decisions and discuss as a business if a delay to your usual reporting timeline is necessary and can be justified." Craig Weston - Barrister & Senior Associate
If you wish to discuss the implications of this guidance to your business please do not hesitate to get in contact with our expert team