Leeds council private sector suppliers failing to comply with modern slavery law

Leeds City Council is among dozens of local authorities using suppliers who are not complying with modern slavery legislation, analysis reveals.
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The Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires companies with an annual turnover of at least £36m to publish annual statements outlining what steps they take to prevent modern slavery in their business or supply chains and publish it in a prominent place on their website.

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But a JPIMedia investigation has found more than 1,000 such companies are supplying goods or services to local authorities despite failing to publish a statement.

Leeds City Council said it takes the problem of modern slavery "incredibly seriously". Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeLeeds City Council said it takes the problem of modern slavery "incredibly seriously". Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds City Council said it takes the problem of modern slavery "incredibly seriously". Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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It means more than more than two-thirds of councils in England, Scotland and Wales are using suppliers who are not complying with the law.

Analysis of data published by TISCreport, which provides supply chain transparency tools to public sector bodies, has found that 254 of the 373 councils featured are using companies that do not have a statement.

Of the 32,125 council suppliers tracked, TISCreport flagged 1,120 (3.5 per) of them as non-compliant. Many of those that did publish statements did not meet all of the Home Office criteria.

It shows Leeds had 322 suppliers required to comply with the Act, with 14 failing to do so. It means the council had a compliance rate of 95.7 per cent.

The JPIMedia Investigations team is running a week-long series of reports on the issue of modern slavery.The JPIMedia Investigations team is running a week-long series of reports on the issue of modern slavery.
The JPIMedia Investigations team is running a week-long series of reports on the issue of modern slavery.
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A spokesperson said: "The council takes the problem of modern slavery incredibly seriously and we are committed to recognising and responding to all of the issues associated with it.

"As part of the many safeguards built into our tendering processes, we require contractors to comply with applicable anti-slavery and human trafficking laws, statutes, regulations and codes, including the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

"We also ask bidders to complete an anti-slavery and human trafficking questionnaire and make them aware that the council is determined to stop these practices finding their way into its supply chains."

They said failure to comply may result in a bidder being disqualified from future tendering opportunities, adding: "Current contracts may also be terminated if their terms and conditions are found to have been breached.

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“We would always look at the circumstances of any particular case and will always work with our contractors and their supply chains to try to ensure modern slavery is eliminated.”

The Government has faced calls in recent years to expand the scope of the slavery legislation beyond commercial organisations to include public bodies such as councils with a budget of at least £36m.

In September, the Home Office announced it would do so, “when parliamentary time allows”, stating it presented an “unparalleled opportunity to harness” the £250bn annual public sector spend “to eradicate modern slavery in supply chains”.

It will also soon launch an online central registry of modern slavery statements for the public to scrutinise – a resource that has only been provided by non-profits until now.

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Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, said he believes the £36m threshold is too high and the focus needs to be widened beyond the private sector.

"I have been raising with the Government the need to really ensure the public sector is more cited and complying with this," he said. "Post-Brexit and during a pandemic where huge announcements are being made around funding in the public sector, there's even more of a need to ensure we're all doing what we can around ethical supply chain procurement."

At least 136 councils, including Leeds, have voluntarily published a modern slavery statement, according to the Local Government Association.

The body says “more powers and certainty” for councils when the Modern Slavery Act is updated would be welcome.

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Nesil Caliskan, who chairs the LGA's safer and stronger communities board, said: “The Government’s commitment to setting up an online registry and enforcement body will hopefully significantly reduce non-compliance and a significant number of councils have demonstrated their own awareness and ethical leadership by voluntarily producing their own transparency statements.”

An independent review of the Modern Slavery Act carried out in 2019 concluded the Government should “strengthen its public procurement processes to make sure that non-compliant companies” are not eligible for public contracts.

The Government has since published its own modern slavery statement, and will require all ministerial departments to publish one from this year.

The Home Office said there are existing mechanisms that allow councils to take modern slavery into account in procurement processes.

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While it did not address the TISCreport figures directly, a spokesperson said its “ambitious package of changes” would strengthen and future-proof the Modern Slavery Act.

“Businesses and public bodies must be more vigilant than ever before and ensure they are not inadvertently allowing forced labour in their supply chains,” they added.

The Modern Slavery Helpline can be called on 08000 121 700.

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