The ground-breaking rules will apply to more than 12,000 companies, with a turnover of more than £36M, from October.
Big businesses must publish an annual statement to show what they are doing to ensure their business and supply chains are slavery free, said prime minister David Cameron.
“This measure is one of the first of its kind in the world and it will be a huge step forward, introducing greater accountability on business for the condition of their supply chains,” he said.
Slavery and human trafficking
The Modern Slavery Act, which comes into force today (July 31) consolidates various crimes related to slavery and human trafficking.
“The scourge of modern slavery has no place in today’s society and I am proud of all that Britain is doing to wipe it out,” Cameron said.
“Later this week, [today] new measures will come into force in the UK to provide greater protection and compensation for victims and to make sure that those responsible face tougher sanctions.”
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) was among the groups that lobbied for the Modern Slavery Bill to include a provision to scrutinise the food supply chain.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “We see it as a crucial first step in enabling business to talk in a sensible way about the problem of modern slavery, the steps that can be taken to guard against it and, crucially, how to deal with it if it is uncovered in a supply chain.”
Think about role in eradicating slavery
The consortium said a threshold of £36M means that a “good number” of British businesses will have to think about their role in eradicating modern slavery.
“We've long argued that the greater the number of businesses who are engaged in the conversation around modern slavery the better chance we all stand of tackling it effectively.
“This announcement … strikes the right balance between requiring enough businesses to produce statements to make the exercise worthwhile while exempting the smallest businesses,” said Dickinson.
Last year the Guardian claimed prawns sold by leading supermarkets were produced by Thai firm CP Foods, whose supply chain allegedly included slave labour.
Thailand, the world’s third largest exporter of seafood, has long been accused of forcing fishing crews to work in “dirty, dangerous and difficult conditions”, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Human Trafficking Foundation estimates that 20,000 people are working in slavery in the UK.
In 2012, 29% of cases of trafficking for forced labour reported to the UK Human Trafficking Centre occurred within the food processing and agricultural sectors.
Read more details about the Modern Slavery Act here.
Modern Slavery Act – at a glance
- Parts of the legislation come into force today
- More than 12,000 firms, with a turnover of more than £36M, will be required to set out anti-slavery plans
- Big firms required to publish an annual statement on anti-slavery actions
- Maximum jail sentence for offenders increased from 14 years to life