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Australia Urged to Become World Leader in Addressing Modern Slavery

21 March 2018 at 2:58 pm
Luke Michael
Implementing a Modern Slavery Act offers Australia the chance to be a world leader in combating human trafficking, and businesses can show leadership by addressing slavery in their supply chain, a Melbourne forum has heard.

Luke Michael | 21 March 2018 at 2:58 pm


Australia Urged to Become World Leader in Addressing Modern Slavery
21 March 2018 at 2:58 pm

Implementing a Modern Slavery Act offers Australia the chance to be a world leader in combating human trafficking, and businesses can show leadership by addressing slavery in their supply chain, a Melbourne forum has heard.  

The Modern Slavery Act for Australia forum was held in Melbourne on Tuesday, hosted by law firm Mills Oakley.

The forum was held to discuss the expected introduction of a Modern Slavery Act in Australia in 2018, which would include the requirement for businesses to report on efforts to address slavery in their supply chains.

Jenny Stanger, the national manager of The Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery, told the forum that the Global Slavery Index estimated there were 4,300 people living in slavery in Australia, with millions more worldwide.

“We’re certainly talking about more people than were ever traded during 350 years of the Transatlantic slave trade. We’re talking upwards of 40 million people, that’s our best [estimate],” Stanger said.

“It’s safe to say that in the Asia-Pacific there’s a higher prevalence of slavery and Australia has a huge role to play in leading efforts to end slavery in our region.”

The Australian government’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery defines modern slavery as involving “the manipulation of complex relationships between the offender and the victim”.

“[This results] in the serious undermining of the victim’s personal freedom and ability to make choices for themselves,” the action plan said.

“This can be through the use of physical threats or psychological coercion, because they are treated as property, or, in some cases, because they are literally bought or sold.”

Stanger said that modern slavery crimes therefore were more complex than simply physically holding someone against their will.

“It’s not always locking someone up and keeping them working for you. It can be a situation where someone is hidden in plain sight. Slavery can sometimes be a situation where someone is in a prison without walls,” she said.

“What the walls are made of are the lies, the vulnerability of the person and the fact that they might be in debt to someone in their home country or here. It’s the threats against family members, it’s the threats against other workers or themselves.”

Another forum speaker was Luis C deBaca, who served in the Obama administration as the United States ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons.

He said that it was not always true that people entered into slavery against their will.

“This idea people have that modern slavery means you are forced into it is almost right,” deBaca said.

“But really what it is, is that you are forced to remain in it. Because you may have entered into it perfectly voluntarily.”

Stanger told Pro Bono News that a Modern Slavery Act in Australia was “historic legislation”.

“We are on the cusp of historic legislation that is going to start an entirely new conversation in this country, with the community, consumers, business and government all together, on how to take a whole new approach to this issue,” she said.

“The previous approach has really been focused on a criminal justice effort where victims often have to rely on a very precarious set of circumstances to enable them to get the right support, at the right time, from the right people. So I view this as historic legislation.”

The legislation gives Australia the chance to become a world leader in addressing modern slavery, deBaca told Pro Bono News.

“Individual Australians have led on this issue around the world, whether it’s in philanthropy, whether it’s within the UN system, whether it’s as legal scholars,” he said.

“But Australia itself has really been on the sidelines, and I think that bringing in the modern slavery legislation gets Australia as a government and as a nation into the game.

“The way that the modern slavery legislation could impact this… [is that it] could not only get Australia off the bench, but actually make it the leader in the world. And I certainly hope that the Australian government is looking to be that kind of leader.”

Sonja Duncan, who spoke at the forum as The Freedom Partnership’s supply chain consultant, told Pro Bono News that businesses needed to show leadership in addressing modern slavery in their supply chain.

But she noted that a lack of knowledge and a commitment to resources was holding businesses back, and that if a business could not find slavery in their supply chain, they were probably not looking hard enough.

“From a business consulting perspective… [this legislation] is really taking corporate social responsibility out of the realms of the sustainability people within an organisation and moving it up into the level of boards and that whole governance structure around it,” Duncan said.

“But it’s going to be really resource intensive for businesses to implement systems and processes to firstly understand who their suppliers are and where they’re sourcing commodities or products and services from. And then… to act on the findings that they have once they do the assessments of it, is [difficult].

“It needs a lot of commitment, but business can be a real leader in this. They just need to show leadership and it’s the businesses who want to be the leaders in Australia, who the rest of us are going to look up to.”


However deBaca said he believed that Australian companies would rise to the challenge.

“Companies certainly have the brain power, they certainly have the resources to make the same journey around these slavery issues around the ethical treatment of the workers within their supply chain,” he said.

“And I think that what we’ll see is that that expertise that’s already been in other parts of supply chain management can be transferable here. So I think that a lot of it is knowing that it needs to be done and then knowing that they are going to be expected to do it.

“I think that Australian companies will rise to the challenge.”

Stanger said charities and not for profits also had a vital role in helping to combat modern slavery.

“I think our role is what it always has been, and it is to shine a light in the dark places and to highlight issues of injustice and to ask and push and advocate for a way forward for people who don’t have a voice” she said.

“And to offer that on the ground response as well, and also to offer an evidence base for why we need these changes. So I think we have a really important grassroots role to play that can help shape a meaningful policy response and to organise a movement.”

The forum speakers said the use of technology was shifting the way modern slavery and human trafficking could be combated.

An example noted by deBaca was a recent announcement that the US State Department and Coca-Cola were working with technologists, to harness the potential of blockchain technology to fight human trafficking.

“My understanding of the new program, is that they’re going to be looking at blockchain as a way to preserve each of the contractual relationships in each of the understandings in a transparent way, because that’s what blockchain does at its best,” he said.

“It is a snapshot of those same signposts or guideposts that then gets uploaded into the chain or put into the chain in a way that nobody can come in and then change it later.

“So the end user, whether it’s the sugar farmer or whether it’s Coca-Cola, can then actually look at that particular worker and see every contract that applies to that worker, and if there’s any contract that’s not in the chain, then that’s going to be seen as an invalid contract.

“If you can use technology to make it so the end user Coca-Cola and the workers in this situation have the same expectations, you can take a lot of exploitation out of the system without the companies losing any money.”

But deBaca added that there was still a need to be sceptical about relying on technology, as “at the end of the day the technology only tells us where to look”.

“You’ve got to have agents and investigators and service providers who are there to walk with the victims on their journey to freedom,” he said.

“And you can look at them from afar and let them stay on the farm. But if you don’t go out and knock on the door… and if you’re not there to be able to represent them when they run, then you’re going to miss everything there.

“And your blockchain [data] will just sit there and look pretty on a computer.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.


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