From a film by the Co-operative Group, telling the story of a modern slavery survivor helped by its Bright Future project.

New research by Sancroft-Tussell evidence that 29 of the top 100 suppliers to Government are not compliant with section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and are not publishing modern slavery statements as they are required to. In total, Government spent £2.8bn on noncompliant suppliers within the top 100 in 2018.

Co-operative MPs have been pushing the Government hard in Parliament in the Public Accounts Committee and in debates to ensure that the Government’s rhetoric on being tough on modern slavery lives up to reality. Sadly, it seems that noncompliance is all too common in the Government’s own supply chain.

The researchers found that noncompliance took two forms. 26 companies which did publish a statement failed to meet the relatively simple steps needed to bring them in line with the law. Three did not publish a statement at all. Out of the 26 companies that published noncompliant statements, the most common failure was not correctly displaying the statement on the website homepage, applying to 22 companies. 15 companies were noncompliant because the statement failed either to be approved by the board or appropriately signed off. A total of seven companies failed in both of these requirements.

It is important not to take ostensibly compliant statements at face value. There always has been a slightly unhelpfully grey area where companies can be legally compliant, but still not taking positive action to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains. This does appear to the case with far too many of the Government’s top suppliers. Shockingly, only nine companies reported on progress in preventing modern slavery in the last year, and just 34% of compliant companies state plans for the coming year that involve a change in the way that they do business.

Whilst there has been some progress from last year’s report, with nearly a third of the Government’s top suppliers not compliant more needs to be done. Likewise, there is a danger that companies which are compliant with legislation are simply learning to jump through what are seen as regulatory hoops, and not taking the issues seriously.

The bottom line is that compliance with the Modern Slavery Act is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s the law – and yet there is no penalty for noncompliance. Co-operative MPs have been pressing the Government to end the disgrace of public money going to companies who are breaking the law. It’s now time for Government to act by strengthening the law and threatening to terminate the contracts of noncompliant companies.