New research urges UK government to tighten public sector tendering process to fight modern slavery

Media Relations Team, 08 February 2024

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New research from UWE Bristol, and the Universities of Bath and Sussex has found that companies that have failed to address known cases of modern slavery are winning public sector contracts in the UK and cannot be disqualified from the public tendering process due to weak legislation. 

Current legislation means that public sector purchasing programmes are not legally required to ask suppliers specifically about their modern slavery risk management, and companies are not incentivised to address those risks, researchers said in the study commissioned by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre. 

Researchers urged the UK government to implement a clear mandate across public institutions to address modern slavery risks, strengthen public tendering requirements, and allow the disqualification from public tendering of companies which have failed to take meaningful steps to address known instances of modern slavery in their supply chains.  

Mike Rogerson, UWE Bristol project lead, said: “This research shows that eradicating modern slavery from supply chains in the UK is an urgent priority – and legislation needs to reflect a commitment to doing so.” 

Dr Kyle Alves, Senior Lecturer of Information Systems and Operations Management at UWE Bristol, said: “Improving customer-supplier relationships can make a real difference on reducing modern slavery while supporting sustainability.  

"This study provides a good example of how, given the right organisational support and proper tools, positive change can be created. Sussex, Bath, and UWE Bristol will always be available to work with policy organisations like Modern Slavery Policy Evidence Centre to help implement changes in how businesses operate.” 

For the study ‘Climate change and modern slavery in public procurement’, researchers interviewed professionals buying on behalf of, and selling to, the public sector, as well as people with lived experience of modern slavery, who were supported by anti-slavery charity Unseen UK.  

The full report can be accessed here.