On 8 April, Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA) hosted a forum to discuss the potential of an Australian Modern Slavery Act to help business address this issue.
The forum was a ‘platform for dialogue, learning and influence,’ said Alice Cope, Executive Manager, GCNA. Importantly, she continued, ‘human rights stood in the middle of this platform.’ Featuring industry leaders and spokespeople from various sectors, the discussion aimed to give Australian businesses a deeper understanding of modern slavery, and what a modern slavery act in Australia could or should address.
In announcing the proposed legislation, the Australian government joins a global movement towards using legislation to identify and eliminate modern slavery in the often complex and fragmented global supply chains of local and international businesses. Helping many countries in this process are the three pillars of the UN Guiding Principles:
1. Protect – state, duty to protect
2. Respect – corporate, responsibility to respect
3. Remedy – victims, access to effective remedy.
The modern slavery forum
Featuring a series of presentations and panel discussions, the forum touched on many issues: from the horrifying human rights violations of modern slavery to the magnitude of compliance in a world where one corporation may have thousands of suppliers, each with a complex network of supply chains. As one panel discussion highlighted, limitations of auditing processes, engaging stakeholders around capacity building, and the possible flow-on effect of a modern slavery act in Australia (for example, the fiscal cost of compliance) are just some of the challenges facing business.
Opening remarks by Chris Crewther, MP, Chair, Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (which is conducting the inquiry into an Australian Modern Slavery Act) included the need to:
- encourage business and public discussion about modern slavery
- look at the proposed legislation in the Australian context
- look for improvement on the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 – for example, incentivise business to look into their supply chains
- consider adopting a more due diligence approach like France
- look at public procurement.
Gershon Nimbalker, advocacy manager for Baptist World Aid, talked candidly about how vulnerable populations find themselves embroiled in modern slavery. Referencing fabric mills that often operate outside the system, he said individuals are deceived through ‘coercion, intimidation and violence’ in the hope of working for a living wage. Yet according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), global estimates on forced labour number 21 million people, with a staggering 51.8% of annual profits (totalling US$150 billion) generated in the Asia Pacific region.
Warning that modern slavery is revealed mostly in global supply chains, Nimbalker, who firmly believes consumers around the world are beginning to ask questions and expect corporate transparency and accountability, offered the following advice to business:
- know who your suppliers are (all the way back to raw materials)
- build relationships – use a relational model rather than a supplier model
- pay a living wage.
Vanessa Zimmerman, Group Advisor Human Rights, Rio Tinto and Chair, GCNA Business and Human Rights Leadership Group, offered an overview of the French and UK legislation, and advised reading Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act, which highlights the need for transparency.
Zimmerman also discussed the importance of the UN Guiding Principles, and suggested establishing core values at the centre of corporate human rights benchmarking, as well as developing:
- a policy statement
- human rights due diligence processes
- prioritisation and risk management.
‘Modern slavery is about humanity. It’s simply about humanity and it’s about human rights.’ – Sharan Burrow
Possibly the most compelling presentation was by Sharan Burrow, “one of the privileged few who walks the supply chains.” As General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (considered the “global voice of the world’s working people”), Burrow talks with affected workers in their workplace. “It's pretty horrifying to see fundamentally how one human being can treat another,” she said. “That’s really what it’s about. How one human being can fail to have the respect for… fundamental dignity in living and working arrangements for others they’re responsible for.”
Burrow talked about three enslaved individuals – one in the Philippines, one on a fishing boat in Indonesian waters and one in Qatar. Each lived in unthinkable conditions: trapped, often unpaid, with poor food options, and little or no access to safe environments in which to live. “None of you would have your sons or daughters in any of these situations,” Burrow said. “We’re talking about choice. What you do every day to eliminate modern slavery is necessary.”
Glad to see the inquiry launched in Australia, Burrow was adamant that we 'get it right', and offered the following advice:
1. Ratify the ILO’s ed_norm/@declaration/documents/publication/wcms_321414.pdf” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener” style=”margin:0px;padding:0px;border:0px;font-style:inherit;font-variant:inherit;font-stretch:inherit;line-height:inherit;font-family:inherit;vertical-align:baseline;color:rgb(140,104,203);text-decoration-line:none;background:transparent;outline:none;word-wrap:break-word”>Forced Labour Protocol “because that sets the basis for the legislation.” The convention has two fundamental measures: freedom of association (“the heart and soul of our democratic rights and freedoms”), and due diligence.
2. Cross border responsibility also needs to be mandatory “because slavery is against the law and so you have to have principles that are mandatory.”
3. Look at the French law “because in some ways it’s better for business” as it requires due diligence on supply chains generally.
‘Our research shows that in this part of the world, 94% of the people who make the profits for 50 of the largest companies are a hidden workforce. So transparency is critical.’ – Sharan Burrow
4. Refer to the other two principles of the UN Guiding Principles – set up grievance procedures at all levels, and be prepared to do what it takes to remedy the situation.
5. Also look at the US tool, which prevents business from bringing forced labour into the country.
Have your say
The Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee invites anyone with an interest in these matters to lodge a submission by addressing the terms of reference by 28 April 2017.
For further information about the inquiry, including how to lodge a submission, please visit the Committee’s website or contact the Committee Secretariat on (02) 6277 2313, email email@example.com and web: www.aph.gove.au/jfadt.
• Have your say by 28 April: part 1
• California Transparency in Supply Chains Act
• Mapping the UK’s Modern Slavery Act against the UN Guiding Principles
• United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015
• UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (pdf)
For more on the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 see the CourtHeath blog Where does slavery stop and start (May 2016).
You can read the CIPS guide Tackling Modern Slavery in Supply Chains or find out about their Ethical Procurement and Supply e-learning course here.
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A participant in the UN Global Compact, CourtHeath seeks to raise awareness about the sustainable development goals and the principles of the Global Compact with business and government organisations in Victoria. The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour and the effective abolition of child labour are two of the ten principles of the Global Compact. The Global Compact repudiates slavery and child labour internationally.
IMAGE: Used under licence from shutterstock.com
Written by Wendy Cavenett
[category courtheath's blog]
[modern slavery, supply chains, Global Compact Network Australia]