The British Retail Consortium welcomes the Draft Modern Slavery Bill

LONDON, 2014-4-9 — /EPR Retail News/ — The British Retail Consortium today (April 8, 2014) welcomed the publication of the report of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill.

The retail industry supports the approach outlined in the Draft Bill which is intended to expose the hidden crime of slavery, bring more perpetrators to justice and protect and support victims. Responsible retailers have been active in tackling exploitation in their supply chains for a number of years through ethical audit programmes and work with the GLA in the UK; collaborative approaches such as the Ethical Trading Initiative and, more recently Stronger Together.

During the Committee’s consideration of the Bill, the BRC submitted written evidence and was called in front of the committee to share the industry’s experiences and provide suggestions to strengthen the Bill. The retail industry is pleased that the Committee supported the BRC’s recommendation to allow individual companies to decide how to allocate responsibility for tackling exploitation within their businesses. Modern slavery is taken very seriously by retailers and allowing them this flexibility means that they can achieve the best results by taking an approach that best matches their business model.

The BRC has also welcomed the Committee’s recommendation to amend the Companies Act to give effect to the Bill’s reporting requirements. Companies covered by the act are already required to report on “social, community and human rights issues” and adding Modern Slavery to this existing list is a pragmatic solution that retailers will welcome. However, the BRC remains concerned that the scope of the Bill is too narrow. It is hoped that, in time, it will be widened to encompass all businesses. Giving every enterprise, of every size, a legal obligation to tackle exploitation is the only way to ensure these abhorrent practices are more expediently ended.

The Joint committee’s consideration of the Draft Bill has opened up dialogue across Government and business supply chains about trafficking and modern slavery which has been widely welcomed by retailers. The Industry is looking forward to continuing to work with the Government to ensure a Modern Slavery Act is a reality in the not too distant future.

BRC Director General, Helen Dickinson, said: “The BRC absolutely supports the Government’s efforts to end exploitation of workers in the UK and we understand that retailers have a crucial role to play here. The approach of the Draft Bill to this issue is pragmatic and we’ve welcomed it. I’m encouraged by how the Government has engaged with industry in developing this Bill. I hope that they reflect on the concerns raised by the committee, which we fully support, and improve the Bill in a way that will have the most impact on the ground.

“All levels of Government across the UK also need to take this opportunity to look to themselves and take a lead in eradicating slavery and exploitation by ensuring their own supply chains meet the standards the Draft Bill sets for the wider Private Sector.”

Committee Chair, Frank Field MP, said: “I’ve been delighted by how involved and supportive the retail industry has been. They have offered an understanding of this issue that has been really valuable to the committee. The BRC has also been able to provide useful guidance on how to ensure the highest level of business engagement, which will be crucial in the on-going battle against slavery and exploitation.

“I now look forward to seeing the BRC take a lead role in pushing forward our proposal on requiring companies to report on the measures they are taking to eradicate slavery from their supply chains. This is a reform that will both help the Government achieve its goal of becoming a world leader in the fight against modern slavery whilst also positively protecting the reputation of British businesses and levelling the playing field for those who already perform well. Our report makes this clear, and after reading it and seeing that this is a reform supported by the BRC and British retailers across the country, I have no doubt that the Government will act accordingly.”

British Retail Consortium, 21 Dartmouth Street, Westminster, London, SW1H 9BP. 020 7854 8900. info@brc.org.uk.