It’s good news that in the very last weeks of her Premiership, Theresa May’s Government has issued a consultation on extending section 54 of the Act to the public sector – a move supported by councils, MPs and the Co-operative Group when they met with the Home Office to discuss the next steps for local government at the Local Government Association Conference recently.

Section 54 (concerning transparency in supply chains) requires commercial organisations carrying out business in the UK, with a turnover of at least £36 million, to prepare and publish a slavery and human trafficking statement for each and every financial year. The aim is to encourage larger companies to investigate and eradicate modern slavery in their own supply chains, so that ethical business practices are passed down from company to company. And it’s the same piece of legislation that has allowed the Co-operative Party’s Charter on Modern Slavery to be so effective: if companies are breaking the law and not publishing their statements then councils as an ultimate sanction can cancel their contract with them.

The legislation is however silent on what action public sector bodies (which often turnover well in excess of £36m) should take with their own supply chains. It’s always seemed a little strange that some councils were asking their suppliers to reflect on their supply chains whilst not applying the same logic to their own spend, which is one reason why over the last few years growing numbers of councils have voluntarily begun to publish Modern Slavery Statements, such as Telford. Indeed, already over half ‘in-scope’ councils have ‘compliant’ Modern Slavery policies in place when you take those that have adopted the Charter and those which publish a Statement into account. It seems clear that the Home Office is pushing at an open door when it comes to extending section 54 to local government.

Theresa May drove through the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as Home Secretary and has spoken repeatedly about it as Prime Minister. The danger is that it may not be such a priority for the incoming Prime Minister. The Co-operative Movement and the Co-operative Party have led the way in the fight against modern slavery, and what is now needed is further leadership to ensure that Modern Slavery remains a priority. It’s important to demonstrate by way of a comprehensive and convincing set of consultation responses that section 54 should be extended to public sector.

The consultation takes place till 17th September, and you can add your support here :