Human Rights Risks in Global Supply Chains: Applying the UK Modern Slavery Act to the Public Sector

Global supply chains (GSCs) are organised through complex networks which leave workers vulnerable to exploitation and unprotected against abusive labour practices including modern slavery. In the past decade's, attention has focused on business responsibilities for the impact of commercial activities on human rights with little focus on the role of states as economic actors and their duties regarding their own supply chain, including through public procurement. This article analyses the application of the Transparency in Supply Chains provision (TiSCs) of the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015) to the public sector. Since 2016 commercial organisations are obliged to report on efforts to identify, prevent, and mitigate modern slavery in their supply chain. This includes over one hundred higher education institutions (HEIs). This article finds that while most reporting in the first year fall short of what is expected of institutions according to Government guidance the exercise of reporting has initiated an important process of awareness. HEIs face a steep learning curve to develop effective human rights due diligence in their supply chain however, the TiSCs obligation has proved a catalyst for a wider process of understanding human rights risks and responsibilities of the public sector, and more specifically HEIs.



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