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Modern slavery and its often hidden place in society is receiving notable front page media attention. Alongside this, corporate respect for human rights is becoming a priority consideration for commercial stakeholders and the public, and the reputational and financial damage for companies failing to uphold strong human rights standards have seen modern slavery compliance jump up the board room agenda. Simultaneously, the impact of COVID-19 has created unprecedented pressure on working practices and supply chain relationships, particularly with regard to workforce vulnerability. This article explores how businesses can turn this potential reputational risk into reputational opportunity.

Trafficking of people, holding them in servitude, and compelling them to perform labour, in other words - modern slavery, is for many a foreign concept, irreconcilable with today’s society, especially in the UK. However, with the drive from non-government organisations (“NGOs”), the Government, the media and ultimately a demand from the public, there is growing understanding of how real an issue this is. For many businesses the greatest concern and risk stems from their supply chains; their associated persons; their business community. It is a risk that affects businesses of all sizes and turnover, regardless of where they are based.

So how can businesses work to improve their own modern slavery and human rights compliance, especially during the coronavirus (“COVID-19”) pandemic and beyond?

Modern slavery risk and COVID-19

Modern slavery risk has risen since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic slowdown with the most vulnerable workers facing even greater uncertainty over their pay, retention and working conditions. Among the most prominent modern slavery risk increasing developments are: