Changes to the Modern Slavery Act 2015, brought in to force companies to eradicate all traces of forced labour – not only from their own business but every supplier they buy from – are set to have a massive, unprecedented impact on small companies.
The new legislation was designed to make big business thoroughly audit their supply chains and has been introduced after terrifying discoveries of modern slavery, as close to home as Yorkshire. It is estimated that between 21 million and 39 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery.
The changes state that from 1 April this year every business with a turnover of more than £36m must prove that it has taken steps to stamp out slave and child labour from its supply chain. But it has become clear that this threshold will not protect small companies that fail to voluntarily comply with the rules.
The trickle-down effect of the Act will be felt this year, as bigger businesses begin to ask searching questions of suppliers right down the chain. Companies that cannot prove they are slavery-free will lose business. Those that tackle the issue head on will mop up these contracts quickly.
“Ultimately, big companies will not deal with firms of any size that they don’t feel safe with,” Chris Ross tells me. He is the founder of J&K Ross, a supplier of safety equipment and protective clothing, and has begun voluntarily auditing his supply chain to make sure his business is fully compliant.
“It is not an easy thing to prove, especially when you’re manufacturing products on the other side of the world,” he says. “We’ve gone to 27 of our suppliers and asked them if they are producing a new statement under the Act. Just four are over the turnover threshold but we’re not letting the others wriggle out of it…
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