We’re halfway there!

Tom Sharman explains what the Prime Minister’s recent speech on modern slavery means for the ‘Who made my clothes? Are brands in Britain playing by the rules?’ campaign. 

Two months ago we launched a new initiative with Fashion Revolution that aimed to speed up change in the fashion industry. 

At the time of writing nearly 5,000 of us had signed the petition calling on the Home Secretary to set up a modern slavery database that includes every company required by law to publish a modern slavery statement. This statement should describe what modern slavery risks exist with a company’s operations and supply chains, and is intended to encourage companies to take steps to tackle those risks.  

Yesterday Theresa May took us halfway there

“We plan to launch a new central registry of modern slavery transparency statements – so that we can all see exactly which companies are serious about stamping out abuses, and which should be avoided by consumers with a conscience.” 

Be in no doubt that this is a welcome first step. At the moment the Government does not track how many companies follow the law, leaving it to NGOs and private companies to attempt to keep tabs on compliance.  

In almost every other area the Government does not shrink from its responsibility to enforce its own laws but when it comes to modern slavery it’s been oddly reticent. The Modern Slavery Act was the first of law of its kind and other countries have followed suit but the enforcement has been, frankly, flimsy. By not properly monitoring who needs to publish a modern slavery statement, who has complied, and by failing to make that information public, the Government has given the impression to companies that its laws are ‘optional’ rather than ‘compulsory’. 

So if we’ve got what we want why are we not dancing in the streets? 

Here’s where the detail is important. We didn’t ‘just’ ask for a public database – we asked for a public list of all companies required to publish a modern slavery statement too. This is every company operating in the UK with an annual turnover of over £36 million. The list is critical to the database’s success – without it you can search the database as much as you like but you won’t be able to find the worst offenders because they won’t even have bothered to publish a statement. Customers, NGOs and investors won’t be able to know how serious a company is about doing its bit to end modern slavery.  

So the job is only half done and that’s why our petition remains live. 


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Tom Sharman is Traidcraft Exchange’s Senior Campaigns & Communications Officer 

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J McNaughton