Two diverse pieces of legislation have recently been passed into the House of Lords on their way to becoming implemented into UK law. Each of these have implications for different and contrasting areas of UK Business law.

Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill 2016

Many UK businesses may claim to be shocked at the suggestion that their operations were in any way connected to slavery, but today’s global business climate means that slavery and forced labour unfortunately flourishes in many areas. Organisations can quite innocently become implicated in slavery both directly and indirectly through:

  • Their own operations
  • Their global supply chain
  • Other businesses they partner with

The Modern Slavery Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords on 23 May 2016, with a second reading following in July, and a summary of its requirements include:

  • Commercial organisations and public bodies will need to prepare a statement in their annual reports and accounts which details their status with regards slavery and human trafficking.
  • Economic operators who do not provide such a statement, must be excluded from the procurement process by contracting authorities.
  • The Secretary of State will provide guidance on this procedure for contracting authorities.

Investigatory Powers Bill 2016

This Bill has received two readings in the House of Lords, the most recent being on 27 June 2016, and is designed to make provision for the privacy of data communications and the storage, by security services, of bulk quantities of internet data and personal details held on databases. The Bill was comfortably voted through the House of Commons in June but has caused much controversy with regards privacy laws, although the Human Rights Committee welcomed the legislation and claimed the ‘bulk data gathering’ was “capable of being justified”.

Requirements of the bill include:

  • Making provisions for the interception of communications, equipment interference, and how communications data, bulk personal datasets and other information is acquired and retained.
  • Where such interception, equipment interference and acquisition has resulted in material being retained, how this material will then be managed.
  • A number of parties will be established to oversee this process; the Investigatory Powers Commissioner and other Judicial Commissioners.
  • Sections 3 and 5 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 will be amended.
  • Further provision for investigatory powers and national security will be introduced.

Critics of the bill claim that ‘equipment interference’ is effectively authorised hacking, and that this bill will give the national security state significantly expanded powers.

Ben Davison, Ison Harrison solicitor and Head of Immigration, commented:

The steps being taken by the government to eradicate modern slavery, a problem which is increasingly receiving the attention it deserves and requires, are welcomed by almost all observers as being overdue. Far from being a historical issue of European powers transporting Africans across to plantations in the new world, millions continue to face conditions of forced labour around the world, including in the UK and an increased focus on dealing with those controlling the systems that allow this to continue should help a great many people.

The Investigatory Powers Bill, in sharp contrast, is an incredibly divisive issue and the wholesale support for it through the commons and particularly amongst the Human Rights Committee is not reflected by Non-Governmental Human Rights organisations. As in America where disputes between the US Government and multinational companies such as Apple, when pressure is put upon the latter to provide personal data from customer records, it’s likely that the debate over balancing national security with personal privacy will continue regardless of the final wording when the Bill is enacted.