An independent review into modern slavery legislation is gathering momentum and it could lead to tougher transparency requirements for larger independent schools.
The Home Office has recently published the independent review’s Second Interim Report which specifically considers the transparency in supply chains requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. This follows on from the First Interim report that focussed on the role of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
The Act requires larger independent schools with a total annual turnover of £36 million or more to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement for each financial year setting out the steps it has taken during that financial year to eradicate slavery and human trafficking in its operations and supply chains.
The Report comments that the impact of Statements since their introduction in 2015 has been limited, which it attributes to a lack of enforcement and fines. The minimal legal requirements in the Act have also left in-scope organisations with plenty of discretion to determine the contents and quality of their Statements.
It is worth highlighting that many organisations large enough to be covered by the Act – including some larger independent schools – have not even published a Statement as required. The Home Office has recently written to 17,000 of these organisations warning them that continued non-compliance will not be tolerated and a deadline of 31 March has been imposed for Statements to be accessible on a prominent position on their websites.
A key recommendation in the Report is a more robust approach to dealing with non-compliance, which would be brought in gradually over the next few years to ensure organisations have the time to get their houses in order. For instance the Report mentions initial warnings followed by fines as a percentage of turnover, court summons and directors’ (governors) disqualification. This would be combined with more stringent requirements around exactly what must be included in Statements.
The independent review’s final report is expected by the end of March, after which it will be reviewed by the Home Secretary and laid before Parliament. Now would certainly be an opportune moment to check whether your school is within the scope of the Act and, if it is covered by the Act, consider whether the location and contents of your next Statement will hold up under more intense scrutiny.