The advent of the internet has made it easier than ever find new suppliers, benchmark prices and drive down production costs – but a few random e mails give you little or no understanding of who you are dealing with, and whether your business partner is reputable. Good communication and a good website should not be mistaken for a suitable partner.

Putting aside the long term reliability of an unknown production source, we expect to see increasing pressure on all companies to meet the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. From October 2015, the Transparency in Supply Chain Provision requires that companies with a turnover of over £36m to issue an annual statement explaining what they are doing to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. This requirement will inevitably be passed on to their suppliers, and a burden of proof required (as has been seen increasingly with Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act Section 1502).

Conformity to the Modern Slavery Act is perhaps not as straight forward as is perceived. Luke Wilde, Chief Executive at twentyfifty commented; “While at first sight we might think this doesn’t apply to us, when we look into most global supply chains there is a high chance that somewhere someone is working under threat of punishment, is indebted or has their freedom constrained in some way. Slavery remains present in the UK, and all over the world and while China has made great strides to improve its working conditions, it can’t be assumed that standard Labour Audits will pick up where there is a risk of modern slavery. One of the difficulties is that established practices in a particular culture, such as a company withholding employee pay before Spring Festival could constitute modern slavery, as it is essentially forcing an employee back to work, and the another challenge is that the Act doesn’t limit itself to direct suppliers but encourages companies to look along the length of their supply chains.”

There are no criminal or financial consequences of non-compliance with the reporting requirements, but companies will need to be proactive in ensuring that they comply on legal and moral grounds before reputations and brands face the consequences. This means buyers will be asked to do their own due diligence on suppliers, and ‘knowing your supplier’ will have renewed importance.