Northern Ireland Justice Minister Naomi Long on Wednesday launched two consultation documents on measures to eradicate modern slavery from the supply chains of public- and commercial-sector organizations. The proposed legislative changes would require covered businesses to publish a modern slavery statement and set out the steps they have taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any part of their business or supply chain.
In 2015, with introduction of the Modern Slavery Act, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to require organizations to publicly report on the steps they are taking to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. These so-named “Transparency in Supply Chains” (TISC) arrangements were extended to Northern Ireland through a legislative consent motion in November 2014.
In July 2019, the U.K. government launched a consultation on measures to strengthen the TISC arrangements and recently published its proposals on how it plans to take this work forward in 2021 based on the advancement of the proposed changes that will require legislative change.
Northern Ireland’s proposed changes would apply to commercial businesses with a turnover of £36 million (U.S. $50 million) or more and will affect U.K.-wide arrangements the government consulted on from July through September 2019. The consultation also seeks views on a proposal to extend the supply chain reporting requirements for the first time to Northern Ireland’s public-sector organizations with a budget of £36 million or more.
“While the main purpose of these documents is to explain and seek views on the proposed changes from those public- and commercial-sector organizations that will be captured by the legislative changes, I would urge all public and private sector companies to take steps to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains,” Long said in a statement.
“I also recognize that this is a difficult time for a wide range of organizations. I want to ensure that all companies that may be impacted by the proposals understand the proposed changes and have an opportunity to engage with officials during the consultation process,” Long added. “The consultation documents provide considerable advice, guidance, and toolkits to assist with this.”
Under the main proposed legislative changes, the areas modern slavery statements must cover will be mandated by law. Where organizations have taken no steps within a particular area, they would have to state this clearly in their modern slavery statement.
Additionally, the proposed legislative changes would introduce a new government-run reporting service “to provide eligible businesses a facility to register their statements, and a single reporting deadline will be introduced to report on the same 12-month period, April to March.” The government is further considering enforcement options, including financial penalties, in line with the development of a single enforcement body.
“Through this consultation exercise, Northern Ireland’s private- and public-sectors are encouraged to demonstrate that there is no safe haven here from slavery of any kind, much less in our supply chains,” Long said. In addition to protecting vulnerable workers from human rights violations, tackling modern slavery in the supply chain also brings several business benefits, including protecting and enhancing an organization’s reputation and brand and protecting and growing its customer base as more consumers seek out businesses with higher ethical standards, she said.
The consultations will run from Feb. 17, 2021, to May 12, 2021.