The Modern Slavery Act 2015 – implications for universities

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What is the Modern Slavery Act 2015?

The Act is a piece of legislation that was introduced into UK law last year to combat sexual exploitation, forced labour and in particular human trafficking.  Although these are not issues which would normally be relevant to universities, the Act has also introduced a requirement for many large organisations, including universities, to prepare an annual slavery and human trafficking statement.

Does the Act apply to universities?

The Act will apply to any “commercial organisation” which:

  1. supplies goods and/or services;
  2. carries on a business or any part of its business in the UK; and
  3. has a minimum global annual turnover of £36 million.

Universities fall within the definition of a “commercial organisation” set out in the Act.

What do I have to do?

If the Act applies, you are required to publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement (Statement) each financial year either setting out the steps the university has taken during that year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in the university or in any part of its supply chains; or alternatively simply stating that no such steps have been taken.  The Statement must be approved at Board/Council level, signed by a company director and published on the university’s website with a link in a prominent place on the homepage.

What should I include in the Statement?

There is no prescribed form for the Statement nor any set criteria for its content.  The legislation itself does, however, provide guidance as what to include in the Statement as follows:

  • the organisation’s structure, its business and its supply chains;
  • its policies in relation to modern slavery;
  • its due diligence processes in relation to modern slavery in its business and supply chains;
  • the parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of modern slavery taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
  • its effectiveness in ensuring modern slavery is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate; and
  • the training about modern slavery available to its staff.

Do I have to produce a Statement now?

Although the requirement to publish a Statement took effect from 29 October 2015, any organisation whose financial year end is before 31 March 2016 does not have to produce a Statement for their 2015/16 financial year. You will, however, have to publish a Statement next financial year.

In the meantime universities should consider what practical steps they will take, including in relation to carrying out due diligence on your supply chains, updating your supply contracts and putting in place training.  This is likely to involve various internal functions including HR, procurement, compliance and legal.

What happens if I do nothing?

There is no legal requirement to carry out due diligence on supply chains and there are no financial or criminal penalties for failing to produce a statement.  However, the Secretary of State could bring civil proceedings against a university which failed to publish a statement.  Furthermore, it would be rather embarrassing and damaging to reputation if a university produced no statement or chose simply to state that it had taken no steps to prevent human trafficking and slavery.

For more information or advice in this area please contact Anthony Coultas on 0191 211 7976 or [email protected].