The UK Government published its first Modern Slavery Statement last week. The 29-page document covers all central government departments and clearly states that the £6.5 billion it spends on ICT and electronics represents a high risk of modern slavery.
The publication of the statement marks five years since the Modern Slavery Act passed, a world leading piece of legislation that (among other things) obligates large businesses to publish an annual statement setting out how they evaluate and address modern slavery risks in their operations and wider supply chains. Public sector bodies do not have to produce a statement, but the Home Office is keen to make it so as government departments are huge buyers of goods and services. They consulted on strengthening the reporting requirements last year and we encourage the Home Office to set out next steps shortly so companies can understand what is expected of them.
In the statement there is a strong belief that ICT and electronics has high modern slavery risks mainly in the mining, material extraction and manufacturing phases. There is a whole page devoted to ICT and electronics and this section outlines steps that the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) is taking to better understand and manage these risks, but also acknowledges how difficult it is to get full visibility over tech supply chains.
A single smartphone or laptop can contain thousands of components that each have their own supply chain and material extraction. Industry has taken huge strides to better understand the supply chains and work collaboratively with customers and suppliers, and we are encouraged that government is working with NGOs on the ground as well as partnering with Electronics Watch and the Responsible Business Alliance.
As well as projects at the source the statement also says that CCS and departments are asking more questions in the ICT procurement process and developing methods to hold suppliers to account on their modern slavery policies and obligations. The statement does not set this out in detail, so we would like to hear from members on questions they are being asked and would also like to work with CCS and the Home Office around supplier performance.
Over the past five years techUK has been helping companies comply with the Act and take meaningful action. We reported on how the sector was complying with the Act, held workshops on auditing and statement writing, ran a conference and are helping members design internal modern slavery programmes and understand similar laws popping up in jurisdictions all over the world.
We also believe digital technologies are going to be essential in combatting all forms of modern slavery and human trafficking, which is why we are proud to be part of Tech Against Trafficking, a global coalition of tech firms committed to leveraging digital tools against this crime.
To learn more about what techUK is doing on modern slavery and business and human rights more generally, please get in touch using the details below, or use the Portal to register for the Sustainable Supply Chain Group.