A Guide to the Modern Slavery Act for Your Business

Modern Slavery Act 2015

The question that many supporters of anti-trafficking movements may be asking – Does the new Modern Slavery Act (2015) go far enough to ensure that corporates maintain a transparent supply chain?

The new Modern Slavery Act (2015) will apply to all commercial organisations who carry on business or part of a business in the UK.

Author: Sharon Benning-Prince

Regulations under the Act – expected to be implemented in October 2015 – will require those with turnover above a yet-to-be-determined threshold to produce an annual statement for each financial year, under the so-called ‘Transparency in supply chain provisions‘.

Current reports suggest that a turnover threshold of around £36-40 million is likely.

It looks likely that organisations with turnover over this threshold will have to produce their first statement by the end of the current financial year. The Government has indicated it will publish compliance guidance in the next few months.

The Act introduces two main offences:

  • servitude or forced labour
  • arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view that a person is being exploited

Section 54: Companies Must Publish a A Statement

  • Section 54 of the Act will require every large business to publish an annual statement setting out the steps the business has taken during the year to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in the business itself, or in its supply chain.
  • The statement must be published on the business’s website.
  • The obligation to publish a statement applies to businesses which carry on any part of their business in the UK and which “supply goods or services” (essentially, all trading companies and partnerships).
  • The statement must be approved by the board of directors and signed by a director (in the case of companies), approved by the LLP members and signed by a designated member (in the case of LLPs), and signed by a general partner (in the case of limited partnerships).
  • Overseas conduct will be included, and will be deemed as if the offence had taken place in the UK.

Preparing the Statement
If a company is caught within threshold, the basic requirement is to produce a statement confirming:

  • the steps taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in your business, or in any supply chain

or

  • declare that you have taken no steps to confirm the existence of slavery or trafficking. This approach may place a company’s ethical position into question and affect its reputation, so it is expected many companies would prefer not to take this option.

The Act does not specify the exact steps that a business must take in relation to supply chain transparency, and there is no prescribed form of transparency statement. However, the Act suggests that the statement “may” include the following:

  • brief description of your organisation’s business model and supply chain relationships
  • your organisation’s policies relating to modern slavery including due diligence processes and the training available/provided for those in supply change management and the rest of the organisation
  • the parts of the business and supply chain most at risk in the organisation and how the organisation evaluates and manages those risks
  • relevant key performance indicators which would allow a reader to assess the effectiveness of the activity described in the statement.

Publication
The homepage of your website must contain:

  1. a prominent link to the statement, which must be approved by the board and signed by a director
  2. homepages of both the parent company and any subsidiary websites
  3. if the company does not have a website it must provide a copy of the statement within 30 days to anyone who requests it

Application / Jurisdiction

  • a company/partnership over a certain size
  • that supplies goods or services
  • and carries on a business or part of a business in the UK

Implications
The Act itself imposes no legally binding requirements to conduct due diligence on supply chains. And there is some flexibility regarding the content of the statement, as companies may find it difficult to compile all the relevant information. The Government has framed Section 54 in such a way as to leave it open to businesses themselves to determine how best to comply with its requirements, and how far they should go in identifying where any risks may lie – and how to tackle them.

The Government has also made it clear that it expects each business to take an appropriate and proportionate approach, based on the nature of its business and the industry sector.

What should you be doing now?
Companies should assess whether they are caught by these requirements. For some this will be straightforward, while others will need to decide on an entity-by-entity basis once the turnover threshold is published. Even if your turnover is lower than the threshold, it may be good for a company reputation to follow some of the guidance and recommended procedures to build customer confidence.

If your company is likely to be affected then you could:

  • start assessing current levels of information on your supply chains. The company will need to start engaging with its direct and indirect suppliers, and set up due diligence systems to obtain reliable information
  • draft and implement a policy on slavery and trafficking
  • assess the need for training within your organisation, and your supply chains, on human rights compliance
  • incorporate anti-slavery and trafficking obligations (and related policies) into procurement agreements, and require similar obligations to be incorporated into any sub-contracting arrangements
  • review your supplier due diligence processes to incorporate procedures that identify modern slavery and trafficking risks.

Will it work?
At this time, it seems that any process that seeks to address trafficking and forced labour issues are to be welcomed. However there are no criminal or financial penalties for non-compliance, and that is an area that could be reconsidered. In order to ensure that companies comply with the Act and comply properly and ethically, there should be some element of financial penalty.

Notwithstanding the lack of penalty, any company that is deemed not to be adhering to the Act may suffer detriment from a reputation perspective, and this in itself may be enough of an incentive for both companies that fall within the threshold, and those that don’t, to comply with Section 54 properly.

Further Reading

New Law to Help Self Builders moves forward

A Government bill to help enable more people to build their own homes has passed its final stage in the House of Commons. It has all party support and goes to the House of Lords this week.

The purpose of the Self Build and Custom Housebuilding Bill – the brainchild of South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon – is to make it easier for an individual or a group of individuals to obtain land in order to build a house to live in. It places a duty on local councils to keep a register of people who wish to build their own home and who are actively seeking to acquire serviced plots of land in the local authority’s area. The Bill then requires each local council to take account of its ‘self build register’ when exercising the functions of planning, housing, regeneration and the disposal of land.

In Laying the Foundations: a Housing Strategy for England (2011), the Government set out plans to enable more people to build or commission their own home – there is an aspiration to double the size of the self-build market, creating up to 100,000 additional self-build homes over the next decade. Various measures have been introduced to ease the path for those wanting to build their own home including (repayable) funding; an exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy; amendments to planning guidance; and improved access to public sector land.

Our thanks to NACSBA , the National Custom & Self Build Association, for this information.

Online Legal Services are “less intimidating, cheaper, quicker and more convenient”

It is good to see a positive report on the benefits of online services such as those offered by ContractStore.  The report entitled “2020 Legal Services – How Regulators Should Prepare for the Future” has reviewed the various offerings online that enable consumers (and businesses) to benefit from the new technology and to obtain a cost-effective solution to some of their problems.  The Legal Services Consumer Panel that issued the report advises the Legal Services Board, the ‘super-regulator’ of legal services in England.

According to the report, their survey data shows strong consumer demand for online services: 47% of consumers polled said online delivery is important to them.

As technology makes legal services simpler to use, involve less effort and cheaper to buy, more people are likely to carry out the sorts of tasks – like writing a will or arranging a power of attorney – which currently they either prefer to put off or cannot afford to do.  The various online services offer many benefits. Among other things, “they may be less intimidating, cheaper, quicker and more convenient.’”

“Self-Lawyering”

‘Self-lawyering’ (sic) is expected to increase as consumers seek alternatives to lawyers through technology enabled DIY solutions. This will enable some consumers to complete common legal tasks without the need to engage a lawyer, or with minimal supervision by a lawyer.

As the report says, historically, lawyers have been a conservative profession which has successfully resisted change.  It is therefore encouraging to see the Legal Services panel acknowledging the beneficial impact for users of the new marketplace when the report says that  “in overall terms, there would seem good grounds for being optimistic about the future. Market liberalisation, technology and other forces should produce innovative and cheaper services that can benefit all consumers and widen access to groups currently excluded from the market.”

Concerns About Regulation

However they do have concerns at the unregulated nature of the online legal market. So they want to encourage and facilitate initiatives to raise standards and extend access to redress in unregulated markets while “continuing to press for modernisation of the wider regulatory framework in the longer term.”

There is something of anomaly in the regulatory framework at present: on the one hand, to practise as a solicitor you first have to train, qualify, be registered with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and comply with the SRA Code of Conduct and Accounts rules.  But the ‘regulated activities’ which only solicitors can perform are very few – essentially court litigation, handling probate and some property transactions.  As a result, the internet has enabled the proliferation of a wide range of legal or quasi-legal services which are not subject to any professional control and can be provided by people without any training in the law.

Quality Legal Documents

At ContractStore, we have taken steps to ensure that our services meet high professional standards.  All our documents are prepared by qualified, experienced lawyers and we are a founder member of APOD, the Association of Publishers of Online Legal Documents which itself has a Code of Practice that members have to sign up to.

The full report can be found here –  http://www.legalservicesconsumerpanel.org.uk/publications/research_and_reports/documents/2020consumerchallenge.pdf

 

Are your Website Terms of Business ready for the new Consumer Regulations?

New regulations concerning the sale of goods and services to consumers come into effect in June. The great majority of businesses selling goods or services online as well as door step and other “off-premises” sales will be affected.

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013 come into effect on 13 June 2014. They replace the existing the Distance Selling Regulations and the Doorstep Regulations.

Although many of the existing regulations will continue, they have been updated in various ways and there are a number of changes that you will need to make to your terms and conditions.

So, be prepared to update your Terms of Business for online sales on your website as well as for off-premises sales. And remember, these Regulations apply to the sale of services as well as goods.

ContractStore’s Terms & Conditions for online sale of goods  (document A179) have been updated and are available to buy and download from our website.

Here are some of the key points in the new Regulations:

 Information     Lots of information must be given by the trader to the consumer before the contract is made.  This pre-contract information will be treated as information forming part of the contract. If this information is not provided, the consumer may not be bound by the contract.

Schedule 2 of the regulations details 24 separate bits of information to be provided. These include:

  • the main characteristics of the goods or services
  • the identity of the trader and his address and contact details
  • if the trader is selling on behalf of someone else, the address and identity of that other trader is also needed
  • the total price of the goods or services including taxes or, if this cannot be calculated in advance, an explanation of how it will be calculated
  • where applicable, any additional delivery charges or  other costs
  • where the contract is open ended or the consumer is paying a subscription, the total monthly or other regular payments
  • arrangements for payment, delivery, performance and timing
  • where there is a cancellation right, details concerning this
  • when applicable, the terms of any after sales service
  • the duration of the contract and if this is open ended, the conditions for terminating and the minimum contract period, if there is one.

Making the Contract.   In the case of online business, the information items in italics above are the minimum that the trader must provide ‘in a clear and prominent manner’ before the consumer places an order.

Also the website must have wording that ensures the consumer, when placing an order, explicitly acknowledges the obligation to pay for the goods or services being ordered.

Unless the trader complies with these requirements, the consumer is not bound by the contract..

Once an order is placed, the trader must confirm the contract within a reasonable time and before the delivery of goods or start of services.  email confirmation is acceptable.

Sales by Phone.  Anyone making a phone call to get a contract must at the beginning of the conversation identify the trader’s identity, the purpose of the call and the identity of any third party on whose behalf the call is being made.   

Delivery.     The contract will automatically contain an implied term requiring retailers to deliver goods and services without delay and in any event within 30 days from the contract date

 Risk.   Until goods come into the physical possession of the consumer, risk of loss or damage remains with the trader. This will not apply if the consumer arranges transportation with a carrier who has not been recommended by the trader.

Cancellation Rights.  Consumers will have 14 days in which to cancel a contract. This period replaces the existing period of 7 working days.  The 14 day period starts the day after the contract is made in the case of a service contract or contract for the supply of digital content online.

In the case of goods, the cancellation period ends at the end of 14 days after the day on which the last of the goods came into the physical possession of the consumer (or someone identified by him – e.g. the person to whom a gift is being delivered).

The Regulations contain a model cancellation form and consumers should be given the option to use this, but any clear statement of cancellation will be effective provided it is given within the 14 day period.

If the trader does not spell out the consumer’s cancellation rights, then the consumer has the right to cancel the contract at any time within 12 months. It is also an offence, punishable by a fine.

Refunds.   If the consumer cancels the contract and returns the goods, the trader must make a full refund within 14 days.  This includes the basic cost of delivery if the consumer paid for the goods to be delivered to him. Where there is no delivery of goods, the refund must be within 14 days after the trader is informed of the cancellation.

If the value of the goods has been reduced by the consumer’s handling, the trader can deduct an appropriate amount from the refund.

Return of Goods.  The trader is responsible for collecting the goods if:

  • he has offered to collect them or
  • the goods were delivered to the consumer’s home and they cannot, by their nature, normally be returned by post.

In other cases, the consumer is responsible for sending the goods back to the address specified by the trader. The consumer is responsible for the cost of returning goods unless either the trader has agreed to meet those costs or he failed to tell the consumer about the consumer bearing the cost in the information provided at the beginning.

Services in Cancellation Period.   The trader must not start services within the cancellation period unless he is asked to by the consumer. If services are then performed in full, the consumer’s cancellation right is lost. If services are partly performed and the consumer cancels within the 14 day period, the trader is entitled to payment on a proportionate basis for those services.

Supply of Digital Content.    Where there is a contract online for the supply of digital content, the trader should not supply the content before the end of the cancellation period unless the consumer has given express consent for early delivery and the consumer has acknowledged that the right to cancel the contract will not apply.  So, if you are selling downloads of music or maps, you need wording to ensure that the consumer agree to waive his cancellation rights as he goes through the buying process on your website.

Helpline Charges.    If it trader operates a helpline, this must not involve the consumer in phone charges above the basic rate. If it does, the trader is obliged to refund the extra cost to the consumer.

 Excluded Contracts.   These Regulations do not apply to certain contracts including: financial services and insurance; leases of property and contracts for the sale of land; contracts for construction of new buildings or conversion of existing buildings.

 Exclusion of Cancellation Rights.   The right to cancel a contract does not apply in some circumstances including:

  • goods that are tailor-made for the consumer or personalised in some other way;
  • goods that are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly, such as fresh food;
  • goods or services where the price is dependent on fluctuations in the financial markets;
  • newspapers and magazines;
  • sealed goods which, after delivery, are unsealed and are no longer suitable for  return due to health or hygiene reasons – e.g. underwear;
  • audio or computer software that is supplied sealed and then unsealed after delivery;
  • goods that become inseparably mixed after delivery – e.g. sand mixed with cement.

For ContractStore’s template Terms of Business for the Sale of Goods Online click here

For more detailed information, the Regulations are available online and are quite easy to read.  Also there is Guidance published by the Department of Business Innovation & Skills.

 

 

What You Need to Know About Selling Online

Retail online is continuing to increase: with low setup costs and the potential to reach niche and mass markets worldwide it’s an attractive proposition. But if you are selling online there are some important rules you need to know about to protect your business – and your customers.

Your terms and conditions of sale must be displayed on your website where the goods are being sold and they must comply with the various regulations that apply.

The key features of the ‘Distance Selling’ regulations in the UK are:

  • you must give consumers clear information including:
    • details of the goods or services offered
    • delivery arrangements and payment
    • seller details including geographical address
    • the consumer’s cancellation right before they buy (known as prior information)
  • you must also provide this information in writing
  •  goods must be delivered within 30 days unless agreed otherwise
  • the consumer has a cooling-off period of seven working days. The cooling off period begins as soon as the order has been made. In the case of goods, it ends seven working days after the day of receipt of the goods. In the case of services, it ends seven working days after the day the order was made but if the consumer agrees to the service beginning within the seven days, the right to cancel ends when the service starts
  • where consumers notify the supplier in writing or another durable medium that they wish to cancel the contract, they must be refunded all money paid within 30 days.

So your Terms and Conditions need to cover all these points and useful clauses can also include:

  • Price – the price of goods must be shown clearly to the customer and make it clear whether VAT is included. If packing and postage is extra, this also needs to be shown.
  • Payment – it is usual to make it clear that payment must be made in full before the goods are dispatched. Sometimes a credit card transaction comes with a warning for the merchant that there is a doubt about the validity of the buyer, so you can do further checks before sending the goods if there is a potential problem
  • Force Majeure – If you are unable to deliver due to some unforeseeable event such as a fire at the warehouse or a hurricane, you can reserve the right to cancel or suspend the contract
  • Warranties – you have a legal obligation to deliver goods that meet the description on your website and are of satisfactory quality so why not say this in your T&Cs as it can give the customers some comfort.

In addition, a customer who wishes to purchase goods online, using a credit card or some other payment method, should be required to confirm that he/she has read the terms and conditions and accepted them before proceeding to the checkout. In order to have evidence that the customer is aware of the terms on which goods are sold, the usual system is to have a ‘tick box’ which must be ticked by the customer confirming that the terms and conditions have been read before the sale process can be concluded.

For more information on legislation and regulations governing the sale of goods and services and consumer protection, there are various Government and other websites that provide useful information including DirectGov – http://www.direct.gov.uk – and the Office of Fair Trading – http://www.oft.gov.uk/. There is also useful guidance in more detail at http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/distance-selling-regulations/

ContractStore has created some ready-made documents for online retailers:

Are Your Gym Membership Terms Illegal?

In a High Court case earlier this year, a sports club was taken to court by the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) and the judge held that certain terms were unfair. These included:
• Terms restricting the right of a member to terminate a 12 month or longer period even if there are good reasons for wanting to terminate – e.g. ill health
• Requiring full payment of fees for the minimum membership period if the contract is ended early
• Requiring payment even where the member had a genuine dispute about the quality of the gym.
• Threatening to report a non-paying member to the credit reference agencies in certain circumstances

The OFT has been keeping a close eye on sports clubs over the years and they have even issued a long report entitled ‘Guidance on unfair terms in health and fitness club agreements’, with warnings against using various clauses including those that try to exclude any liability of the club for death or personal injury.

This case is a recent example of the OFT flexing their muscles with a sports organisation that they felt had overstepped the mark. For the full judgment click here.

ContractStore now offers a Sports Club Membership Agreement and, as always, we have been careful to ensure our terms are both user-friendly and fair to both parties.

Bribery Act UK: Is Your Business Prepared?

New UK legislation coming into force on July 1st 2011, requires companies to have “adequate procedures” to prevent corruption – i.e. a Code of Conduct – in order to avoid the risk of an offence under the new law.

ContractStore and GovRisk (The International Governance & Risk Institute) have teamed up to produce a template Code of Conduct to aid SMEs.

About the New Laws

On July 1st 2011, the Bribery Act comes into force in the UK. This new legislation is broad-ranging in its language and it covers corruption occurring abroad as well as at home. It is essential for companies to get a policy in place to show they are complying and avoid prosecution.

But many businesses have been slow to adopt appropriate policies and procedures, as they have yet to fully appreciate the seriousness of the Act’s implications.

New Offences

Under the Bribery Act 2011 there are four new offences:

  • Bribery of another person
  • Accepting a bribe
  • Bribing a foreign official
  • Failing to prevent bribery

Bribery Act: Key Facts

  • Companies as well as individuals can be prosecuted
  • The only defence to the new offence of failing to prevent bribery is to show you have “adequate procedures” in place to prevent such corruption
  • A company can be prosecuted for bribery in the UK and overseas, and for bribery by employees as well as third parties appointed by your organisation

Founder of ContractStore.com, Giles Dixon says:

“Every business should have a Code of Conduct in place which is compliant with the Act and the Guidance issued by the UK Government. Training of personnel is another important aspect of the compliance procedure.

“We are in the business of helping companies to keep legal costs down and we are concerned that this far-reaching legislation could expose many to prosecution. To support the UK SMEs that are our main customer base we’ve teamed up with GovRisk training providers to make available online a ready-to-use template Code of Conduct.

“Like all our documents, it’s clearly written in plain English, editable in Word and comes with explanatory notes.

“ContractStore’s model Code can be adapted to cater for particular circumstances, as the corruption risks for a company vary depending on the size and nature of the business and the areas of the world in which they operate, as well as the extent of your relationships with others – joint venture partners, agents, Government clients etc.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for UK businesses to get this issue sorted out quickly and easily.”

Prepared for ContractStore.com in conjunction with the GovRisk, this Code of Conduct is available for a limited period at a special introductory price of Ł27 (excludingVAT).

It can be downloaded online directly from www.contractstore.com. Specific guidance and tailoring services are also available.

The International Governance and Risk Institute (GovRisk) are holding an afternoon seminar and drinks reception on the “UK Bribery Act and its Impact on Your Business” on July 14th in London’s Canary Wharf from 4pm. The seminar will feature some of best experts in the field of Anti-Corruption and a drinks reception will follow. Registration is on a first come, first served basis as places are limited.

OneIS Happy

oneis.co.uk

oneis.co.uk

Jennifer Smith, co-founder of OneIS (www.oneis.co.uk) contacted ContractStore after hearing about us in Delia Venables’ Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

OneIS provides a secure, online space for small organisations to store and share all their information. In effect it’s like having an intranet or shared network, without the expense and IT hassle of running your own servers. Clients pay a monthly subscription to store their documents and other information in the application, hosted securely by OneIS.

Jennifer sought a contract giving the terms of service for providing the hosted information management system.

Jennifer and Ben from OneISThis type of hosted service is becoming increasingly popular, so we were happy to hear from Jennifer and produce a template contract for the catalogue.

Jennifer, who describes herself as being “obsessed with efficiency and improving business through better information management”, told us:

“We needed terms of service for OneIS but I didn’t want to spend the £850+ I was quoted by traditional law firms. So I approached Giles at Contract Store who sorted us out very promptly and professionally for a fraction of the price being quoted by others.

“I’m so pleased to have found your service. I thought getting our terms written would be a horribly lengthy and expensive process, but it has been really quick and easy.

“I have been recommending ContractStore to other startup companies – all of whom would benefit from the cost-effective, no hassle legal services you provide.”