Modern Slavery is not just an international issue, but also a domestic issue

As a former policy adviser at the Home Office, Justine Currell executive director of Unseen, examines the present business need to ensure transparency in supply chains.

Though the UK Government is pushing the international agenda to tackle modern slavery, I must assert that we still have some way to go in the UK to drive up awareness and strengthen our own response.  Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has been hailed as a world-leading legislative provision.  However, it will take around another 12-18 months to really see if it has started to make the kind of positive impact we want and need.

For many, tackling modern slavery is a new phenomenon.  It is an issue that has simply not arisen previously for UK businesses. However the new provision now requires around 12,000 businesses (doing business in the UK, providing goods and services and with an annual turnover of £36m or more) to produce an annual statement setting out the steps taken to ensure there is no modern slavery in their supply chains or own organisation.

Tackling modern slavery is fundamentally necessitates knowing where your risks are and taking practical steps to mitigate them. 

You should ask yourself - do I apply appropriate due diligence in sub-contracting goods and services through many layers?  Do I have the right policies and practices in place to mitigate modern slavery risks?   Have I take sufficient steps to train my staff so that they can spot the signs?  

Since the introduction of Section 54, many businesses have asked whether the legislation means auditing every layer of their supply chain.  What is clear from my vantage point is that solely relying on auditing is not the right approach. Tackling this complex issue requires businesses to accept that however ‘clean’ they think their supply chain is, there is still the risk that criminals intent on making a profit from others could infiltrate their business and supply chains.  Reflecting on that possibility, businesses need to consider what proportionate and incremental steps they can take to mitigate the risks.

Businesses need help, support and guidance to take the right approach. 

It is through fulfilling this need that award winning charity, Unseen, in conjunction with social enterprise Semantrica is leading the business fight against modern slavery by providing a neutral platform to maximise transparency, share good practice and build a growing community of proactive businesses.  We want to work with, and not against business in establishing the only central registry for business and backed by business, one that will not rank or tier organisations as this is believed to drives exactly the wrong kind of behaviour.

Publishing an annual modern slavery statement is the first step, however it is the steps themselves that are vital.  And, more importantly, it is the actions a business takes once an issue has been identified to remedy the situation.  

If you are a business and would like any help, further information or want advice about a modern slavery issue call the UK’s 24/7 confidential Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.  The helpline is staffed with trained modern slavery call handlers who can provide advice and signpost you to wider help and services.

The central registry for businesses is available at

Justin Currell is executive director at Unseen, an organisation that looks to increase transparency in the supply chain and foster a world without slavery. Previously Currell served as a senior government policy advisor for the Modern Slavery Act and transparency in the supply chain.