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Modern Slavery Act

What is modern slavery?

Slavery did not end with abolition in the 19th Century.  It is estimated that 21 million people are victims of forced labour in the world today. That’s double the total number of African people who were direct victims of the Atlantic slave trade in the period 1650 to 1900.  

It is a profitable trade thought to generate $150 billion US dollars of illegal profits a year. 

In 2015 the UK introduced the Modern Slavery Act, we are the first country in the world to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st Century with legislation.  The Act implements the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These are a set of guidelines which help countries and businesses to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses. 

The legislation has increased penalties for those committing trafficking offences and put in place provisions to protect and support victims.

If you buy on your purchase card or you buy from suppliers other than those listed in the Buyers Guide, then it is your responsibility to check the supply chain for ethical issues.


Facts and Figures

21 million people worldwide are victims of forced labour

4.5 million of these are victims of forced sexual exploitation

It is estimated that there are 13,000 people subject to modern slavery in the UK today. 

In 2015 3,266 people were identified as victims of trafficking in the UK, 982 of these were children

Victims have been reported from 103 countries, the six most common countries of origin are:

  • Albania
  • Vietnam
  • Nigeria
  • Romania
  • UK
  • Poland

Source of statistics:

How does this affect the University?

The Modern Slavery Act requires all businesses with a turnover of more than £36m per annum to publish an annual Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement to say what they have done to address risks to human rights in their supply chains.  This includes the University and many of our suppliers.

The Finance, Planning and Governance team at the UEA are looking to produce a Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement in the New Year.  We have also been engaging with our major suppliers and Purchasing Consortia to assess their compliance. 

The University sources supplies from across the globe, it is likely that within one of our supply chains slavery is taking place now. There will never be a situation where this is ok.

Today’s students have grown up with social media, news about human rights abuses spreads fast.  This can be hugely damaging to the reputation of the University.

Higher Education has a significant combined spend so we can influence our supply chains and make a difference.

What are the warning signs?

Anyone can be subject to slavery although it is typically the more vulnerable groups and ethnic minorities that fall victim. set out the following warning signs that someone is in slavery:

  • Appear to be in the control of someone else and reluctant to interact with others
  • Do not have personal identification on them
  • Have few personal belongings, wear the same clothes every day or wear unsuitable clothes for work
  • Not able to move around freely
  • Be reluctant to talk to strangers or the authorities
  • Appear frightened, withdrawn, or show signs of physical or psychological abuse
  • Dropped off and collected for work always in the same way, especially at unusual times i.e. very early or late at night.

What are the Procurement Team doing?

The Modern Slavery Act caught most businesses by surprise, the Procurement Team, indeed the Higher Education Sector, are still getting to grips with how to monitor our supply chains for evidence of modern slavery.

The Procurement Team signed the University up to the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent labour rights monitoring organisation.  This specifically monitors labour rights within the clothing industry. Since affiliation we have been developing contracts which include a requirement to provide factory disclosure information.  We have also been assessing some of our existing clothing suppliers and have gained factory disclosure information from Catering and FMH suppliers which has been sent on to the WRC.

We are assessing how we monitor supply chains and have been in touch with other organisations including the London Universities Purchasing Consortium to get advice on evaluation questions and criteria for our tenders.

All of our EU tenders have a question which asks suppliers about their compliance with the Modern Slavery Act.  We are also trying to educate staff around the issues of modern slavery through publications such as this.

What can I do?

If you are using contracts let by the Procurement Team (listed on the Buyers Guide) then you do not need to take any action.  If you have or are setting up contracts or buying off contract then you need to take action, it is your responsibility to ensure there are no ethical issues in the supply chain you are buying through.

Firstly if your supplier has a turnover in excess of £36m per annum you should be asking them if they comply with the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act.  If so they should have published a statement on Slavery and Human Trafficking.  If they haven’t then this will give you a good idea of their attitude towards this issue.

If they are compliant you can ask them what risks they have identified within their business operation and what steps they have taken to address those risks.  You are looking for suppliers with positive open attitudes who have identified risks and put a plan of action in place to deal with them.

You would also expect your suppliers to be able to identify the countries where there raw materials come from.   A map is attached to this guidance note, it is produced by anti-slavery and sets out the products of child and forced labour by country.  If they are importing cotton from Uzbekistan, for example, alarm bells should be ringing as there is a major slavery problem in the Uzbek cotton industry.

Based on the responses you receive you can get an idea as to whether you feel it is acceptable to deal with the supplier. 

You can also look for products with labels such as Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance where these exist to give you confidence in the supply chain. 


Further Information

You can read more about Modern Slavery on the following sites: