A Look at the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Can you believe that although we are well into the twenty-first century now, we find ourselves still considering an abhorrence of mankind that should have been eliminated back in the nineteenth century? Alas, it would appear that our species is always ready to prove its monstrous side in some way or other, and this is entirely why Theresa May (Home Secretary) and several other members of the House of Commons believed that modern slavery legislation was called for.

The main purpose of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is to criminalise any forms of human trafficking and modern slavery and to criminalise the transportation of an individual with the intention of exploiting them. The Act’s definition of slavery includes premature or arranged marriage, forced labour or the exploitation of child labour.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 consolidates the law into one tidy statute and introduces the larger companies in England and Wales to a new requirement to report on the steps they are taking in an effort to ensure that nobody within their organisation is working in any way against their free will (referred to as their ‘supply chain’). Strangely, however, the Act stipulates that only companies with a turnover of £36 million are required to abide by such stringent requirements.

Some of the features of this Act that tend to make better sense include the creation of the position of an antislavery Commissioner, who will be responsible for overseeing best practices for the prevention of modern slavery and efforts to recognise the vulnerable victims in society more readily. Other powers include the ability to seize the assets of people who are convicted of being involved in human trafficking and ploughing these funds into victim support facilities for crimes of this nature, and the ability to establish a clear defence for victims of trafficking when they are caught committing criminal acts. The Act also introduces the concept of advocates for children involved in trafficking.

Whilst the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 would appear to make a lot of sense to most people, the Act is not without its critics. A good number of people and groups connected with this area of law believe it is too focused on enforcement and not concerned enough with the overall protection of victims. Anthony Steen (Chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation) actually provided advice for this legislation; however, he has since stressed that “the bill is wholly and exclusively about law enforcement – but it shouldn’t be enforcement-based, it should be victim-based.” Parosha Chandran (Human Rights Barrister for the United Nations) has been quoted as saying that “the bill is very poor on victim protection.”

The provisions for companies to report on their “supply chains” within their own companies actually came about following a consultation period to include these requirements in the new legislation – they weren’t originally going to be included, as the government felt that it would place too much of a burden on companies. However, is it just me, or does this requirement strike you as being absolutely pointless? Are we saying here that modern slavery only tends to arise within larger companies? This really is utter nonsense, and this reporting provision would only work if every single company in England and Wales is required to comply. When I think about modern slavery, I tend to concentrate on dodgy smaller companies that aim to keep themselves well and truly beneath the radar. Not the larger conglomerates.  

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 does aim to consolidate criminal law in this area, and this is something we are all grateful for. And as the final provisions of the Act only came into force in October 2015, it is too early to assess the extent to which the legislation will help to eradicate this grotesque menace from our society. So you can bet your bottom dollar we will be reporting on this again in the future in our journal.