Guest post: The Modern Slavery Act and SDG 8.7
Priya Shah, student at University of Warwick, examines the link between the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and SDG Target 8.7.
Priya Shah, student at University of Warwick, examines the link between the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and SDG Target 8.7, which focuses on the eradication of forced labour, ending modern slavery and human trafficking and securing the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour.
The Modern Slavery Act and SDG 8.7
The conflation of economic growth and decent work under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 adds a new perspective to human rights and business issues. Specifically, target 8.7, which was preceded and partially influenced by the Modern Slavery Act 2015, links development to the eradication of modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour. Since 2016 the focus of corporate social responsibility has arguably shifted between SDG 8.7 and the Modern Slavery Act, in such a way that presents the law as a tool for achieving the SDGs.
The utility of the law in relation to the SDGs is most evident when considering the minimal guidance offered by the UN as to how and by which methods the goals should be accomplished. Here, Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act (a.k.a. the Tisc clause) provides instructions on identifying and addressing instances of modern slavery and human trafficking and obliges businesses with turnovers exceeding £36m to publish annual statements detailing related risks throughout their supply chains. The Tisc clause is key to understanding the Act’s contribution and potential worth towards realising SDG 8.7. Namely, the emphasis on supply chains feeds into SDG 17’s affirmation of global partnership as crucial to sustainable development, as well as the need, implicit in the SDGs, to address the causes and consequences of developed countries’ unsustainable consumption and production habits on the rest of the world.
Equally relevant is the discourse around modern slavery that the Act has stimulated. Not only did it successfully influence the inclusion of target 8.7 within the SDGs, but it has also attracted media attention, encouraged the creation of initiatives within the NGO sector and raised awareness among consumers, investors and businesses alike. One such example is the recent launch by the British Retail Consortium of a ‘Better Retail Better World’ initiative, which integrates SDG 8 and operates on the premise that suppliers are more likely to adopt alternative methods when confronted by the united pressure of multiple retailers. The involvement and mobilisation of this range and quantity of actors and agencies is relevant to this discussion, as it is reflective of the SDGs’ philosophy as one in which everyone shares ‘a common responsibility for playing their part in delivering the global vision.’
However, despite the legally-binding nature of the Act compared to the SDGs, only 54% of businesses required to publish statements have done so, to date. Although there is mounting criticism regarding the lack of penalties imposed on those failing to publish a satisfactory statement, the percentage of compliant organisations is increasing and remains significant when plotted against the SDGs’ 15-year timescale. Similarly, although statements continue to lack detail on elements of due diligence, they are increasingly longer and more detailed: 67% of statements addressed structure and supply chains moderately well or in detail in 2017, compared to just 46% in 2016.
Thus, the trend appears promising. Yet, the question remains as to whether the law would be of greater benefit to the SDGs if the Act were instead used to mobilise actors, gather data and determine vulnerable areas before harvesting this intelligence and implementing a more stringent law, by which workers themselves are able to report infringements, such as in France. Ultimately, the Act proves its worth as a starting tool for target 8.7, but leaves as much room for improvement as there is time to fulfil the goals.
*The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of A4ID