Peters & Peters

British standard on modern slavery: key systems and controls

At the end of September 2022, almost seven years after the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, standard 25700:2022 of the British Standards Institution (BSI) came into effect, offering guidance and recommendations on organisational responses to modern slavery.

As explained in the first part of our four-part series, the standard provides a practical roadmap for businesses seeking to navigate the complex modern slavery landscape. Although not legally binding, the courts are likely to have to regard to it in relevant cases. As such, we recommend that businesses familiarise themselves with the key measures, systems and controls set out in the standard to help them to manage risk relating to modern slavery.

This third article sets out some of the standard’s key recommendations in this area.

Modern slavery policy

Most affected businesses will be familiar with the legal requirements relating to modern slavery statements (and in light of the limitations in the requirements themselves, the value of guidance or industry examples of best practice in this area).

Helpfully, the standard introduces new guidance on the contents and focus of businesses’ modern slavery policies. It instructs that modern slavery statements should be reassessed at planned intervals, and that a strategy should be in place to outline how the policy will be delivered, including a basic work plan and key objectives and targets.

In line with general best practice standards in this area, the standard does not view modern slavery statements/policies as remote box-ticking documents. Instead, it emphasises the importance of communication to relevant parties and individuals. All persons carrying out work for a business, whether employed or not, should be aware of its modern slavery policy and objectives.

When a modern slavery policy or statement is introduced or updated, the standard suggests that workers should be briefed on key points or changes and that a communication should be sent from top management or the governing body (as well as potentially shareholders, if appropriate). The new policy or statement should also be included in the new employee information package or other information provided to new workers. Even businesses that are not required to publish modern slavery statements are instructed to publish modern slavery policies prominently on publicly accessible websites to demonstrate the actions they are taking.

Competency and training

The standard encourages senior management to take responsibility for determining needed competencies for managing modern slavery risk. All persons assigned relevant roles should demonstrate that they have the relevant competencies and be provided with training, education, development and other support.

The standard instructs business to set up a system for managing competence relating to anti-modern slavery work, and to require contractors to demonstrate that those working under their control have the required competencies in this area for the relevant role.

Competence management systems also include allocating appropriate resources to ensure training needs can be identified and fulfilled for internal and external roles. The standard instructs that training should be provided to teams at regular intervals, as well as to new workers upon joining. In addition, the standard provides more detailed guidance on points that training should cover.

Recording and reporting

The standard notes that mechanisms should cover reporting and recording of modern slavery risk management process and its outcomes. Further, businesses should disclose the information in a clear, timely, comparable, balanced and accurate manner so that stakeholders can assess the impact of decisions and responses to modern slavery on their interests.

Senior management should be regularly updated on the validity and performance of the modern slavery risk management processes, and should actively encourage an open and full reporting culture.

Where issues are reported, they should be notified to regulatory authorities under applicable regulations where required. Where not required, voluntary self-disclosure may still be considered to mitigate future consequences. All issues relating to modern slavery should also be reported to senior management and the governing body.

The standard also instructs businesses to introduce a mechanism for the business’ employees and/or others to report suspected or actual misconduct or violations without fear of retaliation (in accordance with BS ISO 37002).
To support this, the standard instructs businesses to publish information on their modern slavery risk processes in easily accessible and appropriate formats, for example on their websites, at their premises, cascaded through workers and supply chains and in local languages.

Recruitment and employment relations

The standard sets out detailed instructions in connection with workers’ rights, terms and conditions, empowerment, recruitment and related control both internally and across the supply chain, and access to remedy (including credible internal grievance mechanisms, with an avenue for appeal to an independent body and judicial remedy without fear of recrimination or dismissal).

It instructs businesses to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and to address work-related risks that could lead to physical or mental injury or ill health on a systematic basis. They are also told to promote occupational health and safety, wellbeing and prevention culture across operations and supply chains as part of their modern slavery risk management. This should include occupational health and safety monitoring with incidents investigated and recurrence prevented.

Procurement and supply chain management

The standard envisages businesses building the areas of procurement and supply chain into their modern slavery strategy as well as challenging and empowering those responsible for procurement processes.

As part of this, the standard expects procurement policy and strategy to have a clear link with policies and strategies on addressing modern slavery, including:

– considering modern slavery risk in the supply chain;
– disclosing where risks are in the organisation;
– considering the relevance of modern slavery to the supply chain; and
– identifying and considering other related policies and procedures influencing modern slavery activity.

In addition, as key individuals within procurement can have incentives and requirements which may increase the risk of modern slavery, the standard suggests that management of modern slavery risk should be one of the objectives of the procurement function. In line with its general approach, the standard also emphasises the importance of communication of modern slavery policies in connection with the procurement function.

The standard expects businesses to assess modern slavery risk management in procurement at regular intervals. Planning risk management should include:

– encouraging and facilitating modern slavery reporting;
– supporting and protecting whistleblowers and other stakeholders;
– ensuring reports are dealt with in a timely and proper manner;
– improving organisational culture and governance;
– reducing the risk of modern slavery;
– achieving continual improvement; and
– ensuring compliance with local laws.

The standard instructs that planning should include, among other areas, evaluating the effectiveness of actions taken, addressing instances where wrongdoing is reported externally (i.e. to authorities), involving relevant workers and stakeholders in risk management planning, defining the level of confidentiality, support and protection the organisation can provide, and providing feedback to and collecting feedback from whistleblowers and other relevant stakeholders.

Specific instructions are provided in relation to planning procurement and sourcing and managing suppliers. In line with wider movements in business and human rights, the standard recognises that the suppliers of a business’ suppliers can introduce their own risks of modern slavery. Engaging with suppliers (through the chain) may need to therefore involve: mapping the supply chain, risk assessment, planning supplier interventions, building a transparent relationship, establishing an effective grievance process and establishing a whistleblowing mechanism. Businesses should engage with suppliers to prevent, mitigate and remediate modern slavery risks on a continual basis.

Living documents

The standard provides a long-needed steer on how to practically implement appropriate mechanisms for dealing with the risk of modern slavery across a business, including among others, the key points set out above (although more detail is of course provided in the standard itself). It will be particularly helpful for businesses seeking to develop in this area to follow the standard’s instruction to invest in monitoring and communication, so that modern slavery policies become living documents which can be understood and effectively implemented across the business.

However, as modern slavery risk management programmes represent a continuing journey (and for many businesses, one that is only in its earliest stages), businesses will need to carefully assess where best to focus resources, as this will vary depending on their capacity, scale and risk profile.

We hope that this series of articles will assist businesses seeking to stay on top of these challenging issues.

Also in this series

– Part 1: New British standard gives guidance on organisational responses to modern slavery

– Part 2: British standard on modern slavery: key expectations for legal, compliance and senior management