So far, more than 100,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea in 2017, according to International Organisation of Migration estimates. Exploitation of these migrants has put European supply chains, including those in the UK, at greater risk of inadvertently drawing upon slave labour.

Some worrying developments in today’s slave trade

Over the last year, almost three-quarters of the European Union’s 28 member states have seen rises in modern slavery risks. The second edition of Verisk Maplecroft’s Modern Slavery Index (MSI), an annual global risk study, has reported these risks rising more quickly in the EU than elsewhere.

The study identified Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Romania – all major entry points for migrants – as the bloc’s highest-risk countries. Local factors including the strength of laws, enforcement effectiveness and violation severity were all taken into account in ranking the territories.

198 countries were assessed by the MSI in all, and declines in the scores were noted in 20 of the EU’s member states. There were concerning increases for Britain and Germany, which were each deemed “low risk” in the first MSI published last year. The reversal in their fortunes reflects the greater complexity and challenge that the world has faced during the past year.

A responsibility that the UK is struggling to meet

With the latest MSI, the scores for both the UK and Germany have shifted slightly but negatively, tipping both countries only just into “medium risk” status. Fresh data, Verisk Maplecroft concedes, has “revealed gaps in the UK’s labour inspectorate, while Germany has experienced an uptick in recorded trafficking and servitude violations”.

The MSI’s initial rankings had shed light on an impressive anti-slavery picture for Britain, which passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. Introduced by the then-Home Secretary and now Prime Minister Theresa May, it legally required all firms with turnovers of at least £35 million and UK-based operations to publicly detail the anti-slavery measures used for their supply chains.

However, the new study’s authors have suggested that law enforcement authorities are struggling to address modern slavery and trafficking violations which are growing in number in the UK. This is despite the country’s leading slavery-tackling agency, the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), having this year been vested with a major expansion in its powers and mandate.

Reports have hinted that insufficient funding has compromised the agency’s ability to fulfil its recently-gained inspection responsibilities effectively. This is concerning given that, as recent court trials have vividly shown, major companies have been unwittingly utilising slave labour and are cultivating a modern-day slave trade in the process.

Where are the roots of modern slavery?

The Guardian has tasked itself with uncovering and reporting about modern slavery. It cited three preconditions all revealed by court cases by which modern slavery can develop in Britain: “a supply of vulnerable people”, “labour outsourcing that diffuses responsibilities” and “communities that fail to recognise the circumstances in which their neighbours are living”.

Still, regardless of how inadvertent some instances of modern slavery might be, any businesses involved should be urgently tightening up corporate governance in its top management.

“The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery incidents appearing in company supply chains across Europe,” says Sam Haynes, Senior Human Rights Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “It is no longer just the traditional sourcing hot spots in the emerging economies that businesses should pay attention to when risk assessing their suppliers and the commodities they source.”

Here at London Registrars, we can assist UK businesses in stamping out slavery. Get in touch to learn how we can supply your company with Modern Slavery Act 2015 guidance that can help its efforts to fulfil its anti-slavery obligations.

September, 2017