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Businesses Urged to Show Leadership on Stamping Out Modern Slavery

4 December 2018 at 6:26 pm
Luke Michael
Australian businesses are being urged to show leadership in eliminating modern slavery in their supply chains, in wake of Australia's first federal Modern Slavery Act becoming law.  

Luke Michael | 4 December 2018 at 6:26 pm


Businesses Urged to Show Leadership on Stamping Out Modern Slavery
4 December 2018 at 6:26 pm

Australian businesses are being urged to show leadership in eliminating modern slavery in their supply chains, in wake of Australia’s first federal Modern Slavery Act becoming law.  

Legislation requiring businesses with turnovers of more than $100 million to annually report action taken to stamp out slavery in their supply chains passed Parliament last Thursday.

Heather Moore, The Salvation Army’s national policy and advocacy coordinator, was instrumental to the Modern Slavery Act’s success and told Pro Bono News this was a fantastic step forward in the fight against slavery.

She said for around 3,000 large businesses affected by these requirements, the biggest challenge was to get their heads around what modern slavery was.

“A lot of businesses have expressed quite a bit of disbelief that in this day and age we’re still dealing with this problem, but in fact it’s more of an issue now than it’s ever been in human history,” Moore said.

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 could involve human trafficking, bonded labour, or forced marriage.

The Global Slavery Index has estimated there are about 4,300 people living in slavery in Australia, with upwards of 40 million people affected worldwide.

Moore said the next step for businesses to address this was to accurately map their supply chains to check if workers were being exploited during any part of the production process.

“I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single business in the last 18 months that can confidently say what’s going on below tier one of their supply chain, so the biggest challenge will be starting to really map out operations,” she said.

Moore encouraged Australian businesses to show leadership on addressing modern slavery, which she said involved going beyond mandatory compliance measures.

“I’ve already heard some groups streamlining their reporting processes to make it easier for a range of suppliers to report [on their workers],” she said.

“I think leadership comes in the form of being extremely transparent, not just in terms of the reporting under the act, but also looking at other ways to engage the broader public and consumers.”

Dr David Cooke, the managing director of technology company Konica Minolta, said he was very happy to see the Modern Slavery Act become law.

He told Pro Bono News his business already had an ethical sourcing manager and would get on the front foot to eliminate any sign of modern slavery in their supply chain.

“We’re already having discussions with our suppliers and will be doing everything possible to stamp out any incidences of modern slavery in our business,” Cooke said.

Cooke agreed Australian businesses should go beyond mandatory compliance measures and show leadership on addressing the issue.  

“Once a company starts looking into whether there might be incidents of modern slavery anywhere in their business, they should do everything possible to fix this beyond simply submitting a report every year,” he said.

Cooke also urged Australian businesses to report on modern slavery even if they fell below the threshold of $100 million.

“I hope this Modern Slavery Act will create a groundswell of interest from across Australian businesses, including small businesses, to make sure they’re not inadvertently complicit in slavery in any way,” he said.

One criticism of the final act was that it did not include penalties for companies that failed to report.

The Human Rights Law Centre and the Australian Council of Trade Unions both expressed concerns the act would not compel businesses to take action on modern slavery without penalties.  

But Cooke disagreed, and said he believed the majority of Australian businesses would be committed to investigating their supply chains.

“I think most companies are essentially ethical in their nature, and if they find slavery in their supply chain I do believe they will report it and do something about it,” he said.

Adding civil penalties for non-compliance will be considered during a review of the act in three years.  

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

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

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