Glenn Bradley, Group Ethical Trade Manager at Hardscape, is spearheading changes around business and human rights in the UK and Ireland in relation to modern slavery. Here he explains what the Modern Slavery Act means for landscape professionals, and why the industry needs to take action.
The Modern Slavery Act
This April, the Modern Slavery Act will become practice under UK corporate law. This means that all eligible businesses must publish a Modern Slavery Act statement with the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, and demonstrate their due diligence to all forms of modern slavery within their own business and their supply chain.
Now more than ever, landscape professionals need to know and understand the facts to ensure they comply with the new legislation and the requirements of the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.
What is the Modern Slavery Act?
The Modern Slavery Act was first introduced in October 2015 in the UK. The law requires any business or organisation operating on UK soil or providing services or goods to the UK, with a turnover exceeding £36 million, to publish a statement agreeing to uphold the Modern Slavery Act, which is published on the Modern Slavery Registry.
Thereafter, businesses must report annually to Government, explaining how they are using recognised processes to eradicate human rights abuse (largely in the forms of bonded labour, child labour and forced labour) in its supply chain. The public statement alone is not enough; businesses must also demonstrate ethical transparency using recognised processes. This could be shown in a number of ways, for example:
- Achiever or leader ranking with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)
- Practical work with Anti-Slavery International or membership of the Gangmasters and Labour Licensing Authority
To meet UK Government requirements, a corporate business must have publicly registered its statement, and be working in a demonstrable, recognised process. Both aspects are essential.
Why is this law needed?
There are an estimated 21 million people trapped in some form of slavery today. This is exacerbated by an institutionalised ‘low cost wins’ mentality across many industrial sectors.
In some instances, buyers and influencers can become so focused on breaking design specifications or client requirements to secure cheaply priced materials that they don’t consider the ethical implications. The reality is that low-cost products are often delivered through the use of illegal practices in countries of origin usually with human and labour rights abuse taking place. This presents a huge challenge for ethical pioneers, as buyers simply select the cheapest materials without checking that the product is manufactured and delivered using ethical processes.
How will the Modern Slavery Act help change this?
For the first time, all large companies will legally have to consider the labour and human rights of the workers who produce the materials they buy or sell.
Companies will not only have to register publicly their opposition to human rights abuse, but they will also have to demonstrate what they are doing about it and submit data and evidence not just on their immediate suppliers, but also providers to the lower level tiers of their supply chain. This process of mapping demonstrates that everyone is working in a recognised process to eradicate labour and human rights abuse. For example, a business operating the nine ETI Base Code principles provides assurance to buyers that their supply chain is free from labour and human rights abuse.
The act will be a game-changer for companies across the UK. It will breathe much-needed ethical air into how a business trades and will absolutely bring a positive impact to improve supply chain workers’ lives – locally and globally.
Who will the new law affect?
All corporate companies will first need to register their statements publicly with the Modern Slavery Registry. However, the Registry itself is not a model of compliance and is not there to monitor ethical transparency commitments.
Alongside registering a statement, a business must join one of the recognised ethical oversight bodies, and be working to understand their supply chains’ modus operandi demonstrating, practically, that they are employing processes that assure ethical trade and due diligence against human or labour rights abuse.
Smaller companies who don’t meet the £36m threshold will also be affected. This is because they are likely to service or supply clients and contractors that do. It is everyone’s responsibility to show that all parts of the supply chain map (no matter the size of the organisation) are seeking to trade ethically.
How can you ensure that the products you specify are ethically produced?
For peace of mind, landscape professionals must always seek suppliers that are publicly recognised for their human rights diligence. We advise that they follow these three steps:
- Check the Modern Slavery Register to see if the supplier you are specifying from is registered with the Business and Human Resources Centre
- Check if suppliers are full members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) – a leading alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs that promotes respect for workers’ rights around the globe at achiever or leader ranking
- Finally, check if suppliers publicly demonstrate practical project work with the likes of Anti-Slavery International, Dalit Solidarity Network or the Gangmasters Labour and Licensing Authority