New report finds low compliance with Modern Slavery Act in UK agricultural sector

The agriculture sector is not taking enough action against modern slavery, despite being a high risk area, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has said in a joint report with the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab.

Low levels of compliance with the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) and the poor quality of modern slavery statement showed a “lack of a sense of obligation” by the sector, despite it being one of the highest at risk of modern slavery.

The report “Agriculture and Modern Slavery Act Reporting: Poor Performance Despite High Risks”, reveals that only half of agricultural businesses required to produce annual modern slavery statements under MSA did so in the first year the rules came into force.  This contrasts with much higher rates of compliance for the new Gender Pay Gap reporting rules (87% on day one in the first year of reporting).

This rose to just 64% in the second year of reporting, however as a number of these statements were for the previous year, only 44% were actually in date.

Under the Act, businesses with a turnover of more than £36m and a footprint in the UK are required to publish an annual statement on what they are doing to identify and eradicate modern slavery in their supply chains.

Whilst there is no prescribed content for modern slavery statements, government guidance  recommends six areas for inclusion. When assessed against these, the report finds poor performance:

  • Quality of statements is low: scoring an average of 12.9 out of 30, and there was little improvement from 2017 to 2018
  • Companies are failing to assess risks: 40% of companies did not describe any form of risk appraisal nor identify areas of high risk
  • Companies are failing to assess effectiveness: Nearly 80% of statements included nothing regarding the effectiveness of their steps taken to address slavery, despite government guidance advising this

Dr Alex Trautrims, of the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, said the agriculture sector’s heavy reliance on cheap labour meant it had a high modern slavery risk.

“Nevertheless, engagement on the topic of modern slavery in these sectors is far less than one would hope for,” he said. “Only some companies in agriculture comply with the Modern Slavery Act and even fewer continue to improve, whilst many don’t comply and persistently fail to engage.”

The International Labour Organisation places agriculture, alongside forestry and fishing as the sectors with the fourth highest modern slavery risk.

The report said: “The findings are concerning: compliance with Section 54 [the reporting requirement] is poor in agricultural companies, despite it being a high risk sector.

“In essence, the poor quality of many statements indicates two issues: firstly, a lack of a sense of obligation to adhere to the Act’s requirements in Section 54, which points to the need for greater government enforcement of this provision.

“And secondly [it shows] a tactical response to the Act and the issue of modern slavery, demonstrated through non-substantive responses, a box-ticking attitude and minimal compliance.”

The report said the sector’s low compliance was in line with other high risk sectors including food processing and packaging, mining and hotels.

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