Last year 51 new prosecutions were started under the Modern Slavery Act, more than four times the number in the previous year.
This brings the total number of prosecutions brought by the Department of Justice since the act came into force to 63. In its first year, 2015, only 12 prosecutions were started under the law.
The increase reflects a substantial increase in the risks to businesses not carrying out proper due diligence, said Simon Wadsworth, managing partner of reputation management consultancy Igniyte. “With this significant increase in prosecutions, businesses are urged to check their supply chain activity, to ensure compliance.”
There have been a number of high profile cases where individuals have been prosecuted for acts of slavery, including a landmark civil ruling against gangmasters brought by chicken catchers that had been trafficked from Europe.
More recently, two brothers were jailed for six years for trafficking people from Poland to work in a Sports Direct warehouse.
“In addition to potential prosecution and jail time, a number of high-profile cases in the press show that there’s also significant potential for breaches of the Modern Slavery Act to have a devastating impact on a company’s reputation, its directors, and company profits,” said Wadsworth.
Companies do not have to be taken to court to risk reputational damage for breaking the Modern Slavery Act. This February a number of firms were named and shamed for missing the submission deadline for publishing their modern slavery statement.
Under the act all companies with a UK footprint and a turnover more than £36m have to publish an annual statement outlining what they are doing to identify and tackle modern slavery in their supply chain.
The UK passed the Modern Slavery Act in March 2015 and helped to set the gold standard in the fight against contemporary slavery. The act is the first of its kind in Europe and one of t he first in the world to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century. It not only affects businesses in the UK, but globally too, with UK supply chains extending across the world. A number of countries have now passed or are attempting to pass similar legislation of their own.