October 20, 2017 / 4:36 PM / 9 months ago

Force UK firms to stamp out slavery from supply chains: charities

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain should force businesses to stamp out modern slavery from their supply chains, after a survey found that many of its biggest firms are failing to comply with anti-slavery laws, pressure groups said on Friday.

Under Britain’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act, companies with a turnover of more than 36 million pounds ($47.5 million) must produce an annual statement outlining the actions they have taken to combat forced labor within their supply chains.

Yet more than half of about 20,000 companies in Britain covered by the provision have failed to comply, while the government has not compelled any businesses to respond, according to a report by Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX).

Most of Britain’s FTSE 100 companies have taken a “tick box” approach, with half providing “no meaningful information” about steps taken to tackle slavery in their supply chains, said the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) this week.

Laws which limit the number of layers in a supply chain and make firms jointly liable for abuses and exploitation of workers by their subcontractors could compel companies operating in Britain to take more action to root out slavery, FLEX said.

“The government should take leadership on modern slavery in supply chains,” Caroline Robinson, policy director at Flex, an anti-trafficking charity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

FLEX urged the government to hire more labor inspectors - Britain has only 0.4 per 10,000 workers, half of the number in Poland and a third of those in Norway - and be more proactive, rather than mainly reacting to worker complaints.

“If employment rights are not enforced, they become meaningless, and labor abuse can easily develop into severe exploitation,” Robinson said.

Britain is regarded as being at the forefront of global efforts to combat slavery, and its landmark 2015 law was passed in response to revelations that slave labor is being used to make everything from T-shirts to mobile phones.

The government should consider the measures put forward by FLEX to remain a world leader on tackling exploitation in supply chains, said Patricia Carrier, BHRRC’s modern slavery manager.

Britain’s interior ministry said that more companies than ever before were focused on tackling modern slavery.

“We are confident that compliance will largely be driven by public scrutiny, without the need for burdensome regulation,” a Home Office spokesman said in a statement.

Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell.

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