Global Modern Slavery Developments (Part I): A Critical Review of the UK Modern Slavery Act - By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands and a contributor to the Doing Business Right project of the Asser Institute. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.

Over the past couple of years, there has been an international trend towards greater regulation and transparency with respect to modern slavery in corporate supply chains as reports of gross human rights violations in corporate supply chains have entered the public spotlight. For example, over the past couple of years there has been extensive media attention in relation to the use of slaves trafficked from Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Myanmar to work on Thai fishing boats to catch fish to be sold around the globe, with the boats considered to be ‘floating labor camps’. As a result of events such as this, there has been increased pressure on businesses to take steps to address modern slavery in their supply chains through processes such as through conducting risk assessments and due diligence.

As the Ethical Trading Initiative notes, key risks facing companies in their supply chains include the use of migrant workers; the use of child labour; recruitment fees and debt bondage; the use of agency workers and temporary labour; working hours and wages; and the use of subcontractors. In 2016 the Global Slavery Index reported that 40.3 million people are living in modern slavery across 167 countries, and in 2014 the ILO estimated that forced labour in the private economy generates US$150 billion in illegal profits per year.

In March 2015, the UK Government passed the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the Act), game-changing legislation that targets, inter alia, slavery and trafficking in corporate supply chains. The UK Government also published guidance explaining how businesses should comply with the Act.

This first blog of a series of articles dedicated to the global modern slavery developments provides an overview of the main elements of the Act and how businesses have responded to it. It will be followed by a review of the proposed Australian MSA, and a final piece on the developments in other jurisdictions that are considering introducing legislation regulating modern slavery in the corporate context. More...