The government’s stance against modern slavery ‘lacks teeth’ and ‘risks being naïve', a solicitor has claimed following Whitehall's response to a review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The review, commissioned by the Home Office last year, recommended that the government create an offence for companies with a turnover of £36m or more that fail to respond to instances of modern slavery, or fail to fulfil modern slavery reporting requirements. It also recommended that companies should be made to refer to their modern slavery statement in their annual report to Companies House.

However, the government rejected these recommendations, stating they could lead to ‘an overly compliance driven approach’ and ‘encourage statements which are high-level with limited disclosure about instances of or risks of modern slavery identified’.

In response Martin Brown, a solicitor at Birmingham based firm Anthony Collins Solicitors, wrote: ‘The risk of this approach is that the requirements of [the Modern Slavery Act 2015] lack teeth. Given that historically, companies have under-reported regarding modern slavery, the government’s stance risks being naïve.’

The government also rejected the review’s findings that the anti-slavery commissioner role lacks independence. It refused to halt, for example, the recruitment of a new commissioner, stating ‘the role is crucial and the recruitment process was already at an advanced stage’.

Brown commented: ‘It is questionable whether the government is really in a position to decide that the commissioner’s role is already sufficiently independent of the government.’

The government did accept a number of the review’s recommendations, however. For example, it agreed that public authorities, as well as listed companies, should publish a statement if their annual budget exceeds £36m. 

It also intends to set up a single reporting deadline to identify those not reporting and to publish an online register where all statements would be submitted, recorded and made publicly available.

In his foreword, the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP writes: 'The review made a compelling case that now is the time to strengthen elements of our legislation and its implementation...[It] will shape a significant part of our future response to modern slavery.'