Northern Ireland to extend modern slavery transparency requirements to public sector organisations

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Two consultation documents have been launched on measures to eradicate modern slavery from Northern Ireland’s supply chains, including imposing transparency requirements on the country’s public sector organisations for the first time.

Transparency in supply chains (TISC) involves relevant businesses publishing a modern slavery statement and setting out the steps they have taken to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in any part of their business or supply chains.

Justice Minister Naomi Long, commented on the consultation: “I am committed to tackling the scourge of modern slavery.

“Strengthening measures to address modern slavery not only helps protect vulnerable workers from severe human rights violations, it can bring a number of business benefits too.

“These include protecting and enhancing an organisation’s reputation and brand, and protecting and growing the organisation’s customer base as more consumers seek out businesses with higher ethical standards.

“While the main purpose of these documents is to explain and seek views on the proposed changes from those public and commercial sector organisations that will be captured by the legislative changes, I would urge all public and private sector companies to take steps to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains.

“I also recognise that this is a difficult time for a wide range of organisations, I want to ensure that all companies that may be impacted by the proposals understand the proposed changes and have an opportunity to engage with officials during the consultation process.

“The consultation documents provide considerable advice, guidance and toolkits to assist with this.

“Through this consultation exercise, Northern Ireland’s private and public sectors are encouraged to demonstrate that there is no safe haven here from slavery of any kind, much less in our supply chains.”

The UK Government requires commercial organisations, through The Modern Slavery Act 2015, to report on their progress in relation to identifying and addressing modern slavery risks in both their operation and supply chains.

These arrangements were extended to Northern Ireland through a Legislative Consent Motion on 19 November 2014.

In July 2019, the UK Government launched a consultation on measures to strengthen these arrangements, and recently published its proposals on how it plans to take this work forward.

The views expressed during this Northern Ireland consultation and engagement exercise will inform the Legislative Consent process, and assist with effective implementation of the changes.

The changes proposed in one of the two consultations would see a strengthening of the TISC arrangements for commercial businesses with a turnover of £36m or more and give effect to UK-wide arrangements which the Home Office consulted on in 2019.

The main proposed legislative changes will mean that:

  • The areas that modern slavery statements must cover will be mandated by law. If organisations have taken no steps within an area, they will have to state this clearly in their statement.
  • A new government-run reporting service will be introduced to provide eligible businesses a facility to register their statements.
  • A single reporting deadline is to be introduced to report on the same twelve month period (April to March).

The Home Office is also considering enforcement options, such as financial penalties, in line with the development of a Single Enforcement Body.

Another consultation seeks views on proposals to extend TISC requirements to Northern Ireland’s public sector organisations with a budget of £36m or more for the first time.

The United Kingdom government consulted with public bodies in England and Wales but did not consult directly with those in Northern Ireland’s proposals.

Therefore views are sought within public sector in Northern Ireland on how changes can be operationalised in the country, and to provide advice and guidance to aid compliance.

The consultations close on 12 May 2021.

Both Transparency in supply chains – private sector businesses and Transparency in supply chains – public sector consultations are available on the Department for Justice website.