Legal briefing | Environment & Climate Change, Regulated Industries, Business Ethics & Human Rights |

Modern Slavery Update: Reporting during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) period

Requirement to publish a statement

Under Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act ("MSA"), certain businesses are required to publish an annual modern slavery statement setting out the steps they take to prevent  modern slavery in their business and their supply chains.

Recap: Who needs to publish an MSA statement?

An organisation is required to publish an MSA annually if it meets all the following requirements:

  • a 'body corporate' or partnership, wherever incorporated or formed;
  • carries on a business, or part of a business, in the UK;
  • supplies goods or services; and
  • has an annual turnover of £36 million or more

For further information on preparing your MSA statement please see here.

Reporting on MSA during Coronavirus

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose challenges for businesses across a number of reporting obligations, the Home Office has published new guidance on MSA reporting.

The government guidance indicates an awareness of the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic and that some businesses may not be able to publish their statement within usual reporting deadlines.


Businesses granted 6 months

If a business needs to delay the publication of an annual modern slavery statement because of the pandemic, it will not be penalised as long as it publishes the statement within six months of the due date.


Reason for delay must be disclosed

Any delayed MSA statement must be accompanied by a statement setting out the reason for the delay, for example that such delay was due to staff shortages or supply chain disruptions.

Addressing and reporting on risks

The challenges faced by a more remote and decentralised working environment may make some people more vulnerable to modern slavery during the coronavirus. The government stresses that businesses still need to report on the actions taken during this period, and  should consider:


Emerging risks:

Coronavirus poses new and increased modern slavery risks and businesses should meet these with a revised risk assessment to identify any employees in their workforce that may be particularly vulnerable during the crisis period.


Health and safety of workers:

Relevant local or national government policies on health and safety measures should be carefully implemented throughout the business supply chain (such as adopting social distancing measures and statutory sick pay requirements). See more on such health & safety requirements in our related article here.


Supporting suppliers:

Businesses should engage with suppliers on current obligations, such as paying for orders already in production if financially possible. Early engagement may mitigate the risk of late cancellation leading to workers not receiving  wages for work they have completed.


Grievance procedures:

Workers should still be able to access grievance procedures and that new or adapted procedures for coronavirus are made available if required.


Recruitment:

Certain sectors may see a demand surge requiring extra recruitment. Businesses and suppliers must ensure rigorous checks are maintained to ensure vulnerable workers are not being exploited by third parties in profiteering from the demand increases.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding the temporary extension of time to publish their MSA statements, businesses should not assume that the pandemic offers them an excuse for failing to publish their MSA statements or adequately updating their risk assessments and related practices. Going forward, new MSA statements should clearly set out what new risks businesses are facing during the pandemic and how such risks have been proactively monitored and managed.

 

To read the new Government guidance in full, please see here.

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