In this blog Dave Bolas, Commercial Agreements Manager, Public Sector Resourcing discusses the importance of tackling modern slavery in the workforce and how CCS can help you.

On 26 March 2020 the UK government’s modern slavery statement was published. It sets out the steps CCS and other government departments have taken to identify, address and prevent modern slavery in their supply chains. 

As the timing was just days after the country went into lockdown, you can be forgiven if it passed you by. However, we absolutely must not let the importance of stamping out modern slavery pass us by. 

The Prime Minister says in the statement: 

If we are serious about tackling this increasingly pervasive evil then words alone are not enough – we have to take active steps to drive it out of our supply chains.

So, I want to draw your attention to the statement, and take this opportunity to discuss the active steps CCS is taking. I also want to outline how we can help you take your own active steps to tackle modern slavery in the workforce.

What is modern slavery?

Let’s start with a quick summary of what is meant by modern slavery.

Modern slavery is a complex crime that takes many different forms. For example, slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour and human trafficking. It is a serious and organised crime affecting men, women and children, and can be present in all sectors of business. 

What the law currently says

Public sector organisations rely on a wide range of suppliers for the provision of essential public services. We expect the highest standards of business ethics from our suppliers and their supply chain. They must comply with all the applicable human rights and employment laws in the jurisdictions in which they work. This includes complying with the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which consolidates previous legislation and introduces new measures.

As the government’s statement acknowledges:

Modern slavery is so pervasive that it is likely to exist in the supply chains of the goods and services purchased by governments across the globe, from the technology we buy to the construction projects we fund.

Under the act procurement regulations have been amended to make certain modern slavery offences, such as child labour and human trafficking, grounds for the mandatory exclusion of bidders from public procurements. 

Section 54 includes provisions which make suppliers accountable for slavery and labour abuses in their whole operations, including their supply chains.

Suppliers who have a turnover of £36 million (or more) and carry out their business (or part of their business) in the UK are required to publish a modern slavery statement on their website and update it annually. The statement must include details of their organisation’s modern slavery policies and due diligence processes, and provide details of the steps taken to assess and manage any risks in their business and supply chains. It should also be approved by their board, signed by a director and be easily accessible from the home page of the organisation’s website.

The active role of CCS

Our role is to ensure our framework suppliers understand the risks of modern slavery in supply chains, and therefore take appropriate action to identify and address the risks, with particular focus on supporting victims of modern slavery.  

We have gone further than the standard procurement regulation requirements. The selection questionnaire we have been using since 2016 covers the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the Public Sector Contract which has been in use since 2017 includes a corporate social responsibility schedule. This requires suppliers to:

  • meet with the standards set out in the Supplier Code of Conduct, which include requirements to comply with the Modern Slavery Act 2015
  • include anti-slavery and human trafficking provisions in their contracts
  • implement policies and procedures to identify and prevent modern slavery occurring in their supply chain
  • prepare an annual statement setting out the steps they have taken to tackle modern slavery in any part of their business or supply chain.

We are also playing an active role in developing the government’s strategy and policies to tackle modern slavery in government supply chains. We are working with the Home Office and Cabinet Office, in consultation with the cross-government Modern Slavery and Procurement Implementation Group. Together, we have developed best practice guidance and a Modern Slavery Assessment Tool to tackle and eliminate potential modern slavery abuses in our framework supply chains. 

Risk assessments

We carried out a detailed risk assessment of all our commercial agreements in 2019. This identified 26 frameworks as having a high or medium risk of modern slavery occurring. All suppliers on these frameworks, which account for around £2.8 billion of annual spend, were asked to complete the assessment tool in autumn 2019. We are discussing the results with suppliers, and will be monitoring implementation of the recommendations. 

Why workforce frameworks are high risk

Workforce contracts have a high risk of modern slavery abuses as the supply chains have a number of core characteristics that place workers at heightened risk of being exploited.

Complex employment relationships with a reliance on agency, outsourced or subcontracted workers add a layer of separation between employers and workers.  

The employment of low-skilled migrant workers, often via recruitment agencies, is thought to create the perfect conditions for labour abuses to thrive, and in some cases to develop into extreme exploitation. 

Unscrupulous employers are able to take advantage of vulnerabilities without fear of reprisal, as workers are unable or unaware of how to enforce their rights.  

This can include being paid less than minimum wage, removal of holiday allowance or any other entitlement as laid out in the Agency Worker Regulations, through to more heinous contraventions of employment laws, such as dangerous working conditions.

Tackling the risk

We have taken a risk based approach to tackling modern slavery in the workforce supply chain. This includes:

  • mandating workforce framework suppliers to complete the assessment tool, which asks about the processes they have in place to identify and address modern slavery risks 
  • requesting information on how the supplier manages their supply chain to address the modern slavery risk, including details on any systems and processes they have in place to do this  
  • reviewing their modern slavery statements to see what risks the supplier has already identified  
  • researching to see if there have been any previous reports of issues with the supplier through audit reports and the media
  • establishing more information on the labour force in the supply chain – does it involve a high level of manual labour, low-skilled labour or where there are high levels of poverty?
  • requiring suppliers to carry out their own due diligence, requesting evidence of what information has been included and how risk has been assessed 

Each supplier is provided with a report from the tool listing recommendations for remedial action, where there are existing deficiencies in systems and processes.  

We discuss the outputs with suppliers and a corrective plan of action is requested, if any deficiencies are found to be significant. This forms part of the standard contract management process throughout the life of the contract.

In extreme cases, terminating a contract for reasons linked to modern slavery can – and will – be considered where the issues continue to occur and the supplier is unwilling to co-operate and change.For new procurements this process is included from the outset as part of the procurement selection and award process, and subsequent contract management.

Empowering you to make better recruitment decisions

As responsible and ethical organisations, all public sector bodies should have a modern slavery policy in place and take a risk-based approach to tackling modern slavery in the supply chains that they manage or use.  

By recruiting temporary workers through a CCS workforce framework you can be certain that supply chains have been assessed to a standard over and above the current public sector procurement regulations. This gives you greater assurance that any potential for modern slavery abuses have been identified and are being managed.

Next steps

For more advice and guidance on tackling modern slavery in the workforce email us or fill in our short online form and one our commercial experts will be in touch. 

You can also explore our full range of workforce frameworks on our dedicated workforce web page.

Further policy advice and guidance on modern slavery can be found on GOV.UK