The British Standards Institute (BSI) has published a new British standard on modern slavery, and a supporting guidance document, both of which are free of charge to download.
BS 25700 Organizational Responses to Modern Slavery, which is being launched to coincide with Anti-Slavery day today (18 October) but took effect from 30 September, takes a risk-based approach.
Hailed as the world’s first national standard, it is designed to help organisations understand modern slavery risks so they can manage them effectively, with the aim of eradicating practices throughout the world.
According to the standard’s executive briefing, a number of countries, including Australia, Canada and the UK have already introduced modern slavery legislation. In the UK’s case, the leading legislation is the Modern Slavery Act, which came into force in 2015. This legislation requires certain organisations with an annual turnover of £36m or more to publish a modern slavery statement for each financial year and outline the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery in their supply chains.
However, the BSI briefing points out a number of issues with this legal requirement, notably a lack of compliance; inconsistency in the quality of statements; and the gap between what businesses are saying and what they are doing to prevent modern slavery. The purpose of the new standard is partly to 'educate, guide and encourage organisations in the management of modern slavery risks to close the gap between policy and practice.'
Too many organisations, large and small, may not fully understand the prevalence and locations of modern slavery in their supply chains and they may also lack knowledge on how to protect themselves from its risks
It also aims to provide a standardised approach to corporate responsibility and accountability for modern slavery, the executive briefing adds.
Importantly, BS 25700 can be used by organisations of any size or type, which the BSI notes is critical because SMEs make up 99% of businesses and three-fifths of employment in the UK.
As the standard’s guidance’s explains: 'Organisations can cause, contribute or be linked to modern slavery practices. Regardless of the type or size, all organisations have a responsibility to understand modern slavery risks to their business and whether they can be implicated as a result of their activities, products and services, and business relationships.'
Modern slavery is an umbrella term that covers 'a set of specific legal concepts', notes the guidance document. These include forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices, and human trafficking.
'Modern slavery focuses attention on commonalities across these legal concepts and refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception and/or abuse of power,' the guidance adds.
International frameworks such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and sustainable development goals all uphold the individual’s right not to be held in practices such as slavery, servitude and forced labour, the BSI notes.
To extend the new standard’s international reach, BSI plans to produce translated copies and hopes the document will become an ISO standard in the future.
'Too many organisations, large and small, may not fully understand the prevalence and locations of modern slavery in their supply chains and they may also lack knowledge on how to protect themselves from its risks,' says Scott Steedman, director-general of standards at the BSI.
'With this new national standard BSI is providing much-needed guidance to help organisations act decisively to understand, identify risks and eradicate modern slavery.'
Anti-Slavery Day provides a platform to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery and is designed to encourage governments, local authorities, companies, charities and individuals to do what they can to resolve the growing issue.
BS 25700’s publication also comes on the back of a new joint ILO, Walk Free and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) report published last month, which notes that 2021 Global Estimates 'indicate there are 50 million people in situations of modern slavery on any given day, either forced to work against their will or in a marriage that they were forced into'.
Of this total figure, the report authors estimate that forced labour accounts for 27.6 million of those in modern slavery and forced marriage for 22 million.
International action is needed on all fronts, both mandatory and voluntary and the report recommendations include improved legal frameworks and enforcement and strengthened social and legal protections
The Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage report also warns that the number of people entrapped in modern slavery has risen by an additional 10 million since 2016.
'Compounding crises – the Covid-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, and climate change – in recent years have led to unprecedented disruption to employment and education, increases in extreme poverty and forced and unsafe migration, and an upsurge in reports of gender-based violence, together serving to heighten the risk of all forms of modern slavery,' the report notes.
The report outlines a number of policy priorities to end forced labour and forced marriage by 2030. For forced labour, these include promoting fair and ethical recruitment; strengthening the reach and capacity of public labour inspectorates; ensuring there is adequate enforcement; mitigating the heightened risk of forced labour and trafficking for force labour in situations of crisis; combating forced labour and trafficking for forced labour in business operations and supply chains; and ending state-imposed forced labour, which the report says account for one-in-seven of all forced labour cases.
In a recent LinkedIn post, Richard Jones, former IOSH head of policy and regulatory engagement, said: 'International action is needed on all fronts, both mandatory and voluntary and the report recommendations include improved legal frameworks and enforcement and strengthened social and legal protections.'