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Firms show patchy compliance with UK anti-slavery requirements

by Katie Nguyen | Katie_Nguyen1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 7 March 2016 17:18 GMT

A man is silhouetted in front of the Houses of Parliament on a sunny winter's morning in London, Britain January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

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Intel and Ford had some of the most detailed statements

LONDON, March 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain may need to enforce better reporting of what companies are doing to erase slavery from their supply chains, after corporate statements show dozens of firms have not fully complied with landmark legislation, two pressure groups said.

Under Britain's Modern Slavery Act, companies operating in the UK with a turnover of 36 million pounds ($51 million) or more, must - for the first time - disclose what they have done to ensure slave labour is not in their supply chains.

The law was passed a year ago, in response to growing alarm over revelations that slave labour is being used to produce everything from cotton T-shirts and cellphones to catfood for global consumption.

Only 22 of the 75 statements collected so far were signed by a company director and available on the company's homepage - as required by the new law, according to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and CORE Coalition.

The legislation also suggests six areas that companies should consider reporting on, including company policies and due diligence. But only nine firms met the minimum requirements and covered the six suggested areas, the groups found.

Their research noted, however, that Intel and Ford - two of the biggest brands - had some of the most detailed statements.

"... there's far too many slave-like conditions in the products entering Britain," said Phil Bloomer, director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, which has created a registry of statements to benchmark companies.

"(The Act) has sent out very powerful signals to companies around the world that they have to start looking at their supply chains and their own operations to make sure they're doing better. That's the good news," Bloomer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The bad news is that the UK government Act has some significant weaknesses."

The government should follow up with non-compliant companies and demand that firms provide more detailed statements on what they are doing to combat modern slavery, Bloomer said.

His group believes that requirements under the British anti-slavery law could apply to at least 12,000 companies globally.

The Home Office (interior ministry) said the company statements had been published earlier than legally required, and the government was "pleased to see many already taking a proactive approach".

"We welcome the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre's scrutiny of these statements which highlights ways businesses can improve compliance ... through examples of good practice," it said in a statement.

Forced labour generates as much as $150 billion a year in illegal profits, according to the International Labour Organization, with many of the world's 21 million victims made to work in farms, factories and fisheries.

Analysis on Friday by Ergon Associates of 100 early statements showed similar holes in reporting.

The consultancy firm found that while companies were comfortable describing audit processes, they were mostly silent on the slavery risks that might exist in their businesses or supply chains.

(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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