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How we helped secure the most significant change in UK supply chain regulation since 2015

By Luke de Pulford, Arise CEO

The dust is starting to settle after a major victory for Arise on the Health and Care Bill in UK Parliament.

As a result of some very persistent advocacy led by Arise, the UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, has passed a new law committing the UK Government to “eradicate” modern slavery from health care supply chains.

There are a few reasons that this is so significant. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was the first major piece of UK legislation seeking to improve standards of supply chain transparency. But section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 has been persistently criticised for lacking teeth. It merely requires companies with a turnover of more than £36m to produce a modern slavery statement. If an eligible company fails to produce a statement, lies on their statement, or simply produces a very poor quality statement, there is very little anybody can do about it. Certainly, no penalties exist in law.

It wasn’t until 2019 that the UK Government elected to produce its own modern slavery statements. Yet the same issues remain. If the Government itself fails to produce a decent quality statement, there’s very little that can be done.

Here’s the difference: the 2022 Health and Care Act now has a clause in it which requires the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations to “eradicate” slavery from their supply chains. This is easily the most significant development in supply chain regulation since the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and in many ways goes much further. The Department of Health is the biggest purchasing Department in the UK Government, having spent £15bn on PPE alone since January 2020. After this amendment, the Government will be forced to review all of its procurement, and to determine new, tougher regulations to stamp out slavery. Not to simply do the bare minimum, but to “eradicate” it altogether.

This is a really big deal. Happily, with another Government Bill on procurement coming after the Queen’s Speech in May, it is exceptionally likely that Sajid Javid’s new reforms will be applied to the whole of Government, not simply one department. Every aspect of Government procurement is therefore likely to be bound by new regulations which commit them to “eradicate” slavery. And that’s going to require deep and long lasting reform.

The Health and Care Bill Regulations to eradicate slavery will take at least a year to produce, so we can expect this to be operational in late 2023. Arise is likely to be heavily involved as they are developed.

Arise is a charity which supports frontline organisations. You might be forgiven for wondering why we have been working on this area at all. The truth is that wherever slavery is systemic, it is because our laws and regulations allow it to be. I have lost count of the number of times I have been on a field visit where frontline workers have implored us to help improve business practices abroad. By improving procurement standards within governments - the biggest purchasers of them all - we are raising the bar, which will have a knock on effect throughout the supply chain world, with companies selling to the government realising that they will simply fail to win contracts unless they can meet new human rights thresholds.

It goes without saying that this huge and significant victory could not have been possible without the help of a lot of people. First, the critical role of Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP and the wider network of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China must be acknowledged. Sir Iain’s relentless pursuit of this cause is a lot of the reason it got done. Lord Blencathra and Lord Alton, who did much of the work in the House of Lords, must be credited, as must Lord Collins who set up Opposition support. Next, the Special Advisers to Sajid Javid, Pete and Sam, who were courteous and helpful throughout, showing how Governmental outreach to backbench MPs ought to be done. The Bill Team were also magnificent, and played a huge part in crafting something which will have an impact for generations to come.

Next to our friends in the NGO and campaigning world. Too many to mention, but: World Uyghur Congress, Stop Uyghur Genocide, Justice and Care, Freedom Fund, Unseen, Sophie Hayes Foundation, Hope Not Hate, Yet Again, Protection Approaches, IPAC, and many others (really sorry if I have forgotten anyone).

Finally, my superb Arise team who worked late into the night over many months to get this over the line. I’m proud of what we achieved.

Onwards to the Procurement Bill, which we need to ensure is at least as strong as the Health and Care Bill!

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