January 4, 2019 CHTCS

Ask the Expert: Peter Talibart, Partner at Seyfarth Shaw, UK

Peter TalibartAn accomplished human rights advocate and legal expert, Peter Talibart is a pioneer and renowned leader in lobbying for and influencing the design of legislation oriented against modern day slavery. Mr. Talibart has provided formal expert evidence to the Parliaments of both the United Kingdom and Canada on draft modern slavery laws. Recently, his evidence provided to the United Kingdom parliament was quoted and cited in the recently passed Australian Modern Slavery Statute. In addition to having led some of the largest and most complex employment law projects in the world, Mr. Talibart is also a popular global lecturer on international employment law issues. He is the Co-Chair of the Employment Law Committee of the International Bar Association.

In a recent interview with CHTCS, Mr. Talibart noted that many companies are still not taking the 2015 Modern Slavery Act (MSA) obligations to publish a slavery avoidance statement on their website seriously enough. Just recently, he again provided evidence to the subcommittee of the UK Parliament looking at the impact of the MSA. “If a country just wants to pay lip service to this issue, it’s easy to pass a law that has almost no consequence but allows that country to tick the box that it has done so. That is what almost happened in the UK, and many think the current law has insufficient teeth. But if you want to help business to align against modern slavery, you have to pass moderate and proportional laws and actually enforce them. Nobody is in favor of modern slavery and business is ready for a good law that does not make it responsible for risks it cannot always control.” Mr. Talibart advised the UK government in 2015 that if it took the lead on such an issue, this would encourage other countries to follow suit. Recent history has proved him right.

Ask the Expert: Interview with Mr. Talibart

William Wilberforce was a leader in the movement to stop slave trade in England during the late 1700’s and is known as one of the most influential political figures in the reformation of slavery. His novel campaign resulted in the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Wilberforce is historically known as a humanitarian and reformer who significantly contributed to reshaping political and social attitudes on slavery by promoting social responsibility and action. As such, it can be said that he strongly influenced other leaders in the 20th century to stop slavery going forward.

1. Do you consider yourself a modern-day William Wilberforce?

  • I do not, reason being is that today most politicians tend to pay lip service to this issue, and in turn manage to have themselves called the new ‘Wilberforce’ in news article within a few days. I do believe that there are a lot of people working on this issue together, from different angles and perhaps together, it is better to say that “WE are Wilberforce.”

2. If you were William Wilberforce in 2018 what would you suggest as a path forward for Parliament in the year ahead?  

  • The answer depends on the Parliament. Canada needs to act quickly and pass a law. I am ashamed (as a Canadian) it has not, because this is an issue that greatly offends everything we stand for as a nation. The UK needs to bring the slavery reporting requirements into its great, world leading, Companies Act.

3. Given the current state of affairs and the need for an emphasis on “supply chain measures in the Modern Slavery Act”, what do you believe is needed to have “world class” legislation enforced?

  • Simple. A coherent penalty for not having a modern slavery statement posted or having one that is false or misleading. Telling investors and consumers what you are doing to try to not indirectly support this plight on humanity is not a big ask.

4. How can the United States follow the leadership of the UK in regard to enforcing a novel and world class law on supply chain measures for companies to adopt and demonstrate being a global leader in social responsibility in the fight against modern day slavery and trafficking?

  • The US probably has the toughest regime in the world in its Federal Contractor regulations. If you look at how law has developed in the US, the Federal contracting regime has incubated legal concepts into the wider system on numerous occasions. There are lots of other laws on point, RICO, customs laws, and criminal trafficking laws. As such, in the US legal system, unlike most others, there is the concept of supply chain transparency for human beings in the legal system. However, because of the low regulation orientation currently, this concept has not yet translated into an obligation on business to publish its avoidance mechanisms, and there are some difficulties in knowing where this obligation would sit without becoming just more litigation fodder. I think that the character of the United States is such that it will act on this issue as a condition of access to its markets. Things are often cheap for a reason and when material costs are fixed the only thing that can be squeezed is a human being. The real difficulty with all of this is in designing a light touch law that will put business on the alert but not make life even less bearable for the millions of men, women and children already living frightened desperate lives. They are the least fortunate people on this earth and we must not let our righteous intentions make things worse for them. We are in the middle of the second great slave trade and we don’t even know it. This is truly one the issues of our life and times. Let’s fix it.