UK’s Largest Anti-slavery Prosecution ‘Operation Fort’ Provides Lessons for Business and a Framework to Analyse Compliance to the Modern Slavery Act, June 2020

Operation Fort is the UK’s largest anti-slavery prosecution, with eight members of a Polish criminal gang convicted of slavery, trafficking and money laundering offences on 5th July 2019.

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner report highlights “Operation Fort is important not only because of the number of victims, but also the length of time the criminal gang was able to operate without disruption.” The gang’s activities were traced back to 2012 and continued four years after the Modern Slavery Act was passed in 2015.

The case involved 92 victims aged between 17- 60 who spoke minimal or no English, who were forced to work on farms, in factories, waste recycling plants, warehouses and live in dire conditions in the Birmingham area, although West Midlands PD estimated 400 Polish nationals may have been subject to this exploitation. Operation Fort was a complex case of modern slavery involving many criminal elements, including labour exploitation, human trafficking, fraud, deception, theft and physical abuse.

A key lesson from this case lends to employers and businesses being educated and proactive in spotting the signs of slavery and exploitation, and having effective measures in place to report concerns. There must be particular safeguards in place for temporary workers. Lessons to banks suggest they must proactively look for the signs of slavery within their branches, and also by analysing financial data. Furthermore, recruitment agencies can learn lessons from this case. They have an important role in identifying victims during interview or inductions, carrying out effective checks to detect anomalies, and an ongoing responsibility to check on worker welfare.

“Operation Fort sends a clear warning that no supply chain is safe from worker exploitation. Modern slavery and human trafficking gangs are highly adaptable; organisations must continually evolve to keep pace with entrepreneurial criminality.”

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner provides a maturity framework for business’ compliance to the Modern Slavery Act:

BARELY ACHIEVING COMPLIANCE

  • Superficial modern slavery statement – policy but no action
  • Little or no mapping of supply chains
  • Minimal awareness of modern slavery amongst staff
  • Sole reliance on audits
  • No protocol for dealing with labour abuse 

 

MEETING BASIC EXPECTATIONS

  • Evidence of activity or improvement in modern slavery statement
  • Identifying areas of high-risk in the business and supply chains
  • Educating suppliers on policy and setting expectations
  • Regular staff training and awareness-raising exercises
  • Basic protocols for dealing with labour exploitation cases
  • Installing whistleblowing hotlines

 

EVOLVING GOOD PRACTICE

  • External challenge or working groups informing strategy
  • Going beyond auditing – deep dives and unannounced visits
  • Cascading ethical standards throughout supply chains
  • In-depth training for staff in key roles, such as procurement
  • Commitment to worker engagement
  • Implementing the Employer Pays principle

 

LEADING ON HUMAN RIGHTS INNOVATION

  • Board leading on human rights strategy
  • Using data analytics to identify risk
  • Local, national, international intelligence gathering
  • Supporting suppliers to develop ethical competencies
  • Pioneering new ways of worker engagement, using technology
  • Factoring in the true cost of labour

 

Find the full Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner report here.

Public Sector Supply Chains and Government Compliance

Public Sector Supply Chains and Government Compliance
image from Shutterstock

The Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act published the final report at the end of May 2019. The final report proposed a consultation to run that focused on issues surrounding transparency in supply chains and modern slavery reporting. On the 9th July 2019 this consultation was launched, forming part of a governmental commitment to improving section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which addresses modern slavery reporting requirements and transparency in supply chains. The consultation took responses from NGOs, charities, businesses, public sector bodies, and various other organisations and interested parties, addressing three key areas:

 

  1. The content of modern slavery statements: This section addressed inconsistencies in reporting approaches taken by different companies and the possibility of making certain criteria mandatory. This section also sought to address the fact that global movements in modern slavery legislation may make it desirable to ‘harmonise our approach’. The questions posed focused on reporting practices and the implications of making certain areas mandatory.

 

  1. Transparency, Compliance, and enforcement: The second section of the consultation sought to propose the introduction of a central government registry, one designed to improve transparency. It also addressed reporting deadlines, proposing a single annual reporting deadline so as to reduce the confusion of multiple separate deadlines throughout the year. It finally sought to gain views into how section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act might be enforced. Questions were posed on each of these areas.

 

  1. Public sector supply chains: The final area addressed in the consultation examined public sector supply chains. In essence, the consultation proposed that reporting requirements would be extended to public sector organisations with a turnover of more than £36 million per year.  Reporting requirements would be for each individual government body to maintain responsibility, whether given individually or as part of a group statement. The questions posed by this section of the consultation focused on the apparent benefits and challenges of imposing modern slavery reporting requirements on large public sector bodies.

 

The consultation period ended on the 17th September 2019 and the following day the UK Government announced a series of measures that would be introduced to ensure that governmental supply chains were free from Modern Slavery. The UK government spends approximately £52 billion in the procurement of goods and services, with wider public sector annual spending nearing £203 billion. The statement further announced a new partnership with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply to provide training and awareness to government workers and departments. The announcements addressed several of the issues raised in the consultation surrounding public sector supply chains, with proposals that from 2021 individual ministerial departments will produce their own modern slavery statements. However, the final response to the period of consultation has yet to be released.

UK Government response to the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015

In July 2019 the UK Government released it’s response to the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which was published earlier in the year. The Review appointed experts to advise on the following four sections of the act, making a total of 80 recommendations:

  1. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (s 40-44)
  2. Transparency in Supply Chains (s 54)
  3. Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (s 48)
  4. Legal Application (specifically s 3 on the meaning of exploitation, s 8-10
    on Slavery and Trafficking Reparation Orders and s 45 on the statutory defence).

 

The response to the Independent Review sets out several actions the UK Government will be taking to address some of the recommendations, including the launching of a public consultation about transparency in supply chains and the announcement of £10 million for the development of a new modern slavery policy and evidence centre. The policy and evidence research centre will involve academics, charities and firms. However, whilst the new centre has been described as having great potential to improve knowledge on human trafficking and modern slavery there are some concerns that the new initiative is being developed while policy is failing in other areas.

The full UK Government response can be found here.

Organised Crime, Modern Slavery and Waste Management

The waste management industry has been receiving increasing attention as a sector at high risk of modern slavery, with figures from the anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice suggesting about two thirds of forced labour victims have worked in the waste management sector.  The waste management sector is a multi-tiered industry with many complex supply chain networks. This complex network of supply chains makes it easy for individuals to be filtered into the system for the purposes of labour exploitation.  Such an accessible system has made the waste management industry very attractive to organised crime groups, with many groups operating in the sector also involved with other major criminal enterprises such as human trafficking, county lines drugs operations and arms offences.

Organised crime is often associated with grand ‘mafia-esque’ organisational structures, but these traditional organised crime groups are giving way to more dynamic fragmented groups that operate more fluidly. In May 2019 the National Crime Agency (NCA) released organised crime figures that suggested that the number of offenders involved in organised crime in the United Kingdom was approximately 181,000 , though this is considered a conservative estimate. As part of the same press release the NCA released its national strategic assessment for 2019 which discussed the changing face of organised crime and outlines the rise in modern slavery and human trafficking referrals. Public awareness of organised crime has risen recently with several high profile reports of prosecutions and police operations to tackle gangs and organised crime groups operating across county lines. However, whilst public awareness of organised crime and modern slavery is rising it does not seem that there is any widespread awareness of how these issues impact the waste management sector.

In 2018 the government published a review of serious organised waste crime, which outlined how organised crime groups would often “colonise” pre-existing legitimate waste markets. These criminal operations would often then function through other criminal enterprises, including modern slavery and human trafficking. In response to the issues of organised crime and modern slavery in the waste sector the Environment Agency committed to taking new measures to tackle these issues. Some of these responses have included increasing inter-agency collaboration to ensure that investigations and operations carry a bigger impact against organised crime, and specially training officers to spot the signs of modern slavery. Whilst public awareness of waste crime and modern slavery in the waste sector such measures by law enforcement and government bodies signal a firm awareness of serious and major criminal activity in the waste management sector, and a commitment to addressing these issues.

Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 Released

Independent Review Modern Slavery Act 2015

The Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has was published this week on the 22nd May 2019. The review has identified eighty recommendations for improvements to the operation of the act and wider policies to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking in the United Kingdom. The review makes significant recommendations for how legislation should be amended to increase compliance by businesses and improve supply chain transparency, including:

  • Recommendation 25: Failure to fulfil modern slavery statement reporting requirements or to act when instances of slavery are found should be an offence under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.
  • Recommendation 22: The legislation should be amended to require companies to consider the entirety of their supply chains [in respect of modern slavery]. If a company has not done so, it should be required to explain why it has not and what steps it is going to take in the future.
  • Recommendation 18: In section 54(5) ‘may’ should be changed to ‘must’ or ‘shall’, with the effect that the six areas set out as areas that an organisation’s statement may cover will become mandatory. If a company determines that one of the headings is not applicable to their business, it should be required to explain why.
  • Recommendation 32: Section 54 should be extended to the public sector. Government departments should publish a [modern slavery] statement at the end of the financial year, approved by the Department’s board and signed by the Permanent Secretary as Accounting Officer. Local government, agencies and other public authorities should publish a statement if their annual budget exceeds £36 million.

The recommendations would significantly increase the responsibility on businesses to address anti-slavery in their supply chains, and afford the government greater power to punish companies that do not comply.

The full report can be found here.

Modern Slavery Act 2018- What does it do?

Australia_Parliament_House_Lauri_Vain
Photo Credit: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre; Lauri Väin

New Modern Slavery Act 2018 in Australia introduces strict reporting requirements for businesses among other key objectives.

There has been significant interest recently over the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (MSA) in Australia, and its likely coming into force in early 2019. The act will carry with it significant thresholds for businesses to meet in terms of reporting requirements. But what is the new act?

Section 3 (Part 1) of the MSA 2018 details the main objectives of the act are to:

  • Combat modern slavery,
  • Provide assistance and support for victims,
  • Establish an Anti-Slavery Commissioner,
  • Provide for detection and exposure of modern slavery,
  • Raise community awareness and provide education on modern slavery,
  • Encourage collaborative cross-sector and multi-agency responses,
  • Introduce provisions for the ongoing assessment of anti-slavery laws,
  • Criminalise forced marriage,
  • and, penalise further involvement in cybersex trafficking and CSE.

 

Statistically reports of  modern slavery in Australia are low in comparison to other countries, but there are concerns this is because of a lack of awareness on the matter. As part of this, there are concerns that businesses are not fully aware of the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains. Part of the act focuses on supply chain transparency, and appears to be heavily oriented towards tackling these issues. The focus on business accountability and corporate supply chains suggests a main focus on forced labour, which is not unsurprising given forced labour accounted for approximately half of all modern slavery cases in the ILO’s 2016 statistics. However, the objective statements of the act regarding forced marriage and child exploitation demonstrate the wide reaching and comprehensive aims of the act to eradicate modern slavery in all forms.

A link to the act itself can be found here.

Child Labour is Prominent in Tobacco Production Supply Chains

A farmworker rests while harvesting tobacco at Dormervale farm, east of Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 28, 2017. (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)
Photo Credit: A farmworker rests while harvesting tobacco at Dormervale farm, east of Harare, Zimbabwe, on November 28, 2017. (Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko)

Claiming to be ‘ethically sourced’, tobacco fields are one of the biggest cash crops in the developing world yet have one of the most corrupt supply chains. Tobacco farms are worked on by children labouring excessive hours for minimal or no pay, while tobacco companies reap the multi-billion dollar benefits of the industry.

Human Rights Watch conducted research in Zimbabwe in 2017, which revealed children aged 12 – 17 are employed for tobacco harvesting and processing. They reported negative health affects including nicotine poisoning, pesticide exposure, carcinogen exposure and associated immune defects, yet the workers and farmers themselves were ignorant as to the cause of their regular sickness. Despite the ongoing social consequences of child labour including exemption from education, tobacco farm labour is not regulated as ‘dangerous work for children’ in Zimbabwe.

On our analysis, this is problematic not only because of the short-term consequences on the health and social rights of the workers, but also as it fuels the longer-term demand for the toxic, pollutant and addictive recourse. This demand is rising in the vulnerable areas of Asia, Africa while decreasing in the West due to education, taxation and policy restrictions. Abolition of child agricultural labour is a high policy agenda for the new Zimbabwean government, and a fundamental step in promotion of a stable democracy throughout other developing states that are also the production sources of tobacco.

For the full report on A Bitter Harvest: Child Labor and Human Rights Abuses on Tobacco Farms in Zimbabwe, read here. 

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos presents a New Global Fund to Reduce Modern Slavery

Significant progress was made at last week’s 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.

The discussions emphasised the alarming figures of today’s modern slavery crisis, with estimates stating 40.3 million people are currently in slavery worldwide, Gary Haugen, CEO of the International Justice Mission said there are more people in slavery today than were extracted from Africa over 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade. Haugen was one of the panelists at the forum who discussed a new fund, led by the US and UK, whose goal is to raise $1.5 billion (€1.2 billion) combat slavery. “The modern slavery problem is massive … but it’s more stoppable than it’s ever been,” commented United States Senator Robert Corker, chairman of Committee on Foreign Relations”. What is needed is a collective effort by companies and individuals and transparency in supply chains. Governments and consumers also have a role to play in holding business accountable.

Read further on the discussion on modern slavery at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.

Horrific Working Conditions Prevail in Thai Fishing Industry

Last week Human Rights Watch released reports bringing significant attention to the Thai fishing industry that highlighted human rights violations, including coercion or human trafficking.

The 134-page report, “Hidden Chains: Forced Labor and Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Fishing Industry,” describes how migrant fishers from neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia are often trafficked into fishing work, prevented from changing employers, not paid on time, and paid below the minimum wage. Migrant workers do not receive Thai labour law protections and do not have the right to form a labour union.

Despite previous warnings from the EU to ban Thai seafood imports and being listed under US human trafficking watch, the Thai government has struggled to enforce the stricter policies and reforms. Limited improvements for fishers were introduced through vessel inspections and maximum time at sea limited to 30 days, however the tangible results of these policy implementations have not met international standards.

Full article on forced labour in the Thai fishing industry.