The Modern Slavery Bill: What are the implications for businesses?

The introduction of the NSW Modern Slavery Bill is a major stepping stone for Australia in terms of stamping out human exploitation that, too often, is hidden in plain sight. The Bill seeks to cover the activities of both private and public-sector organisations with annual consolidated revenue of more than $100 million; requiring that they publish a report every financial year in conjunction with modern slavery regulations. It is still yet to be determined what this statement must include, but no doubt will require businesses to adopt a higher level of transparency when it comes to their sourcing and production methods.

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So, why is this so important?

The Walk Free Foundation, the publishing organisation of the Global Slavery Index, estimates that on any given day in 2016, 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery. Of these people, 24.9 million were in forced labour and 15.4 million were in forced marriages. Even more shockingly, 1 in 4 of these victims were children. The majority of countries have laws against modern slavery, but few governments have sought to hold businesses accountable.

As stated by The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, the purpose of the bill is to “to encourage identification and disclosure of instances of modern slavery, and to clean up supply chains.” Increasing pressure from Government, as well as expectations from employees and customers around corporate social responsibility, is creating changes in the way many do business. By requiring organisations to report each year; identifying the risks in their supply chains, as well as highlighting the due-diligence processes they have in place to assist them in tackling modern slavery, the idea is that negative attention will be drawn to companies who are slacking on their social responsibilities.

By making information such as this public, it is anticipated that customers will hold their suppliers accountable for the entirety of their operations; requiring that they demonstrate that they are not engaging in unethical practices. The modern consumer no longer simply wants the most inexpensive option, they want their dollar to go further and create positive social and environmental impact. This shift, coupled with reporting regulations of the new Bill, will create transparency in companies that may have previously had none; raising expectations of what constitutes ‘good business.’ By creating a new benchmark for success, organisations must willingly demonstrate the integrity of their operations and can no longer plead ignorance when it comes to the darker corners of their supply chains.

Dr Jennifer Burns, the Director of Anti-Slavery Australia at the University of Technology, Sydney, states that slavery is common in Australia’s labour force, particularly within “hospitality, construction and agriculture”. The Supply Chain Sustainability School, functioning both here in Australia and in the UK, is an organisation seeking to target modern slavery in the construction sector. They acknowledge that, while the estimated number of people living in modern slavery conditions in Australia is lower than many other countries, the majority of our supply chains lead directly to the Asia Pacific region, where roughly 30 million people are subject to human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage.

The purpose of the School is to combat businesses engaging with these illegal and inhuman practices by increasing sustainability knowledge and competency along the construction and infrastructure supply chains. If you’d like to get involved, well we’ve got good news for you! We’re currently hiring a Partner Engagement Manager to help the Supply Chain Sustainability School achieve financial and strategic growth, to assist with their mission of creating a greener, more sustainable construction sector.

Overall, this new commitment to stamping out modern slavery practices will not only help protect the world’s most vulnerable, but raise the bar when it comes to defining corporate success. By acknowledging the importance of this human rights issue, change can be adopted right now to provide every individual with freedom as a basic right.