Efforts to tackle modern slavery have stalled as the number of companies disclosing anti-slavery measures within their supply chains has nearly halved, according to a new analysis.
The international body, the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), called on the Government to better enforce critical transparency rules that are “ignored”.
Only 29% of organizations required to provide a modern slavery declaration have filed it with the government registry before 2022, the CIPS found.
Under the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, companies with a turnover of more than £36 million a year must publish an annual statement outlining the steps they are taking to tackle slavery in supply chains.
Organizations are under immense pressure in their supply chains and under these circumstances it can be tempting to turn a blind eye to modern slavery and prioritize other challenges
They are also “strongly encouraged” to submit statements to the Home Office’s Modern Slavery Statements Registry, although this is not required.
But the registry saw just 8,074 statements filed in 2022, a sharp 46% drop from the 15,019 filed last year, the CIPS found.
Despite more than a third of organizations saying they think abuses of modern slavery are most common in the UK, as part of their supply chain, followed by 18% who said China and less than a 10th India said, according to registry data.
The CIPS noted that companies have a six-month grace period to file the 2022 statement, but said efforts to file statements could ease without more pressure from the government.
David Taylor, chief operating officer of the CIPS, said: “It is an open secret that vulnerable adults and children are exploited every day to produce the goods and services we consume.
“Organizations are under immense pressure in their supply chains and under these circumstances it can be tempting to turn a blind eye to modern slavery and prioritize other challenges.
“But it is precisely in times of economic hardship that we must be vigilant and continue our efforts to address this problem.”
He added that the data is a vital resource for tackling modern slavery but is currently being ignored.
While we wait for new modern slavery legislation and a new independent anti-slavery commissioner, too many cases of exploitation, abuse and harm will go unseen
In addition, almost a quarter of the statements submitted last year lacked basic information about the steps being taken, such as including measurable goals.
The government is expected to introduce a new modern slavery law to parliament this year that would make filing with the register mandatory for eligible companies.
But the body pointed out that since April last year, the government has not appointed anyone to fill the position of independent anti-slavery commissioner, a role needed to scrutinize legislation and hold companies accountable.
Lady Sarah Thortona modern slavery professor at the University of Nottingham and former commissioner, said: “While we wait for new modern slavery legislation and a new independent anti-slavery commissioner, too many cases of exploitation, abuse and harm will continue unseen.”
“That’s where our real failure lies,” she stressed.
The analysis comes as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was criticized this week for his major immigration reforms, which could make it more difficult for victims of modern slavery and human trafficking to come forward because of the risk of deportation.
Former Prime Minister Teresa May called for such victims to be excluded from measures under the Illegal Migration Bill, which aims to remove protections for people believed to have entered the UK illegally.
Ms May warned that the bill will “drive a carriage and horses through the Modern Slavery Act, denying aid to those who have been exploited and enslaved”.
Home Secretary Robert Jenrick, answering on behalf of the government, said it sees “growing evidence” of abuse of the modern slavery system.