The future of a Parliamentary Bill designed to eradicate slavery, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation in the supply chains of companies operating in the UK is in the balance. Sponsored by Labour MP for Slough, Fiona Mactaggart, the newly published Bill was due for the next stage in the process of becoming law at the end of April. However, the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons did not take place leading to doubts about further progress. Ms Mactaggart remains upbeat saying, "I am now hoping that it will be selected through the Private Members Bill ballot process which happens next month". This would give greater chance of the Bill being debated further.
The Eradication of Slavery (UK Companies Supply Chains) Bill, if it becomes law, would require large companies operating in the UK to report annually on slavery, human trafficking and exploitation in their supply chains, and what steps they are taking to address this. The law would apply to retailers and manufacturers with global turnovers exceeding £100m, since small and medium size businesses would not be able to afford or have the capacity to fulfil these requirements.
Under the legislation, large companies would have to report on the steps they are taking to evaluate and address the risk of slavery in their supply chains. They would have to say whether or not they are auditing suppliers. Suppliers would have to certify that all materials used in their products meet the national legal requirements regarding slavery, human trafficking and exploitation. In addition, companies would be required to provide training on the issues for those responsible for suppliers, and to ensure that procedures were in place for dealing with suppliers who do not comply. If companies uncover slavery or trafficking in their supply chains, they will be required to help the victims and to include this in their reports. Some companies are already taking similar measures.
The Bill had been granted a second reading in the House of Commons under the Ten Minute Rule, a procedure that allows MPs to introduce proposed legislation for debate. Such bills are not part of the government’s legislative programme, and that means there is little chance for the bill to become law. The second reading was due on a day (27 April) when the Commons was not in session, along with a long list of other bills due for debate. The picture may change, though, if the Bill is successful in the Private Members Bill ballot, or if discussions with ministers gains government backing.
Dalit Freedom Network’s UK Director, Malcolm Egner, says, “If it becomes law, this Bill is very welcome. It encourages businesses to play their part in tackling slavery and human trafficking. If we are ever to see an end to these heinous practices it will need a concerted effort of governments, law enforcement agencies, NGOs, business and local communities. The prospect that the Bill will not make much progress is disappointing. It has the potential to not only open a much needed debate on the role of business in tackling slavery and trafficking, but includes measures that could make a difference in combating such exploitation. If the Bill had government backing, either in its current form or in a new bill based on this one, it would stand a much better chance of becoming law.
“Since there are many companies operating in the UK whose supply chains include Indian manufacturers and suppliers, thousands of Dalits may be helped if these businesses took the issue seriously. British politicians need to know that we have a real concern about these issues so I would encourage our Champions and supporters to write a letter or send an email to their MP, especially if they are Conservative or Liberal Democrat MPs, and can be asked to urge the government to take this on.”
Dalit Freedom Network UK
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