Mind the Gap: London’s SMEs fall behind in their understanding of Modern Slavery – SMEs in the North and Midlands lead the pack

New research reveals that SMEs in Greater London are least engaged in the topic of Modern Slavery compared to other parts of the UK.

Alcumus, the UK’s market-leading business for providing technology-led risk management solutions for small and large businesses world-wide, reveals there is a significant regional divide when it comes to business’ understanding of Modern Slavery. Across the North and Midlands (East and West) 3 in 4 (77%) claim an understanding of the issue. In the Midlands it is highest, with more than 4 in 5 SMEs (84%) aware of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and its meaning. While many SMEs in the North and the Midlands state higher levels of awareness of the Act, Greater London falls behind the curve with one in three (31%) of SMEs unaware of the policies, making it the least clued-up region in England.

  • Over half (52%) of SMEs in Greater London do not understand the legal requirements Modern Slavery places on companies and the majority (61%) do not have a company policy on their approach to modern slavery
  • SMEs in the North and Midlands are most aware of the legal requirements that Modern Slavery places on their company (77) and have the highest awareness of the Act (90%)

 

Gemma Archibald, Chief Operating Officer, SME at Alcumus explains:
“The low level of awareness in Greater London is not too surprising if we think about the sectors that cluster in the region, such as finance and technology. These are both industries where Modern Slavery isn’t potentially perceived as a prominent challenge. This doesn’t however mean that Modern Slavery doesn’t exist. For companies, this means that they may be exposed to risks they are not aware of. Greater London has the highest density of businesses across the UK, which is particularly concerning if you think about the number of companies this leaves exposed.”

 

Andrew Wallis, CEO of anti-slavery charity Unseen, adds:
“With some 25 million people globally in forced labour, the chances are that most businesses will have some kind of exploitation in their supply chains and business practices. The financial sector is not immune either and could be unwittingly linked to modern slavery through, for example, international money transfers or investment choices. It’s essential that all sectors in the business community are aware of the issues and how to identify potential problems on their own doorstep or with business partners.”

 

Mind the gap between awareness and action

Though SMEs in the Midlands are most aware of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the majority (64%) do not have a specific policy in place that explains their company’s approach to Modern Slavery. Evidently, the level of awareness is not translating into action and more needs to be done to bridge this gap to help SMEs build better and safer workplaces.

While SMEs in both the Midlands and Greater London region currently fall short of placing appropriate policies and procedures in place to uncover potential issues of Modern Slavery in their business, research finds that if obliged to pay compensation, SMEs in the Midlands would be more likely to prioritise compliance than they currently do (85%) than SMEs in Greater London (61%).

Looking ahead at the next 12 months, the gap continues to widen. Less than a third (30%) of SMEs in Greater London said that they plan to make changes to their processes and policies. This compares to 42% of SMEs in the Midlands.

Gemma Archibald continues:

“While around half SMEs in the UK aren’t directly obliged to comply with the Modern Slavery Act, it is concerning to see how many don’t currently engage with the topic at all. We must help companies make their workplaces better, safer and more sustainable. Ensuring that Modern Slavery as a topic is addressed in policies and processes is an important part in protecting companies, their employees and supply chain. Currently, we hear calls for investors to take serious and effective steps to identify and root out modern slavery which can exist in any supply chain, in any industry. Just like the Modern Slavery Act, this will focus on large enterprises but doesn’t consider SMEs who continue to lack a framework within which to operate. That’s what needs to be addressed.”

Alcumus has partnered with Modern Slavery charity Unseen to provide an SME toolkit on Modern Slavery which provides useful information on the topic and is working closely with policy makers to ensure SMEs find consideration in policies to have a framework that allows them to assess risks and address potential issues.