Modern Slavery: Simple answers to five frequently asked questions, and the resources to help organisations understand
This article first appeared in Sourceable online on 2nd September 2020 at:
With the introduction of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act 2018, many organisations are starting to measure social impacts, evaluate human rights commitments, and assess the risks of modern slavery across operations and supply chains. This, of course, generates multiple questions as well as frequent requests for the ‘right’ resources.
‘Modern slavery’ describes situations where offenders use coercion, threats or deception to exploit victims and undermine their freedom; it is a term used to describe situations of serious exploitation which may include debt bondage, forced labour, forced marriage, human trafficking, servitude, slavery, and the worst forms of child labour. The term does not include practices like underpayment of workers or substandard working conditions, although these practices are also harmful and may be present in situations of modern slavery. It is estimated that today there are over 40 million people in conditions of modern slavery worldwide, with up to 15,000 people in Australia impacted.
As the Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act entered into force on 1 January 2019, it established a national Reporting Requirement that applies to larger organisations in the Australian market with annual consolidated revenues of at least AUD$100 million; a requirement which supports the Australian business community to assess and address their modern slavery risks, and form and maintain responsible and transparent supply chains.
These larger organisations required to comply with the Reporting Requirement must prepare annual Modern Slavery Statements; others may choose to report voluntarily to demonstrate ‘best practice’ or meet client obligations, while smaller and medium-sized organisations are already being asked to provide information to help larger businesses demonstrate the ‘continuous improvement’ that underpins the Act.
Some organisations have been gathering this information for years, either because they are leaders in this field, demonstrating their ethical procurement and supply chain transparency, or because they already report in other jurisdictions such as the UK. But many others feel that they are ‘late’ to the conversation, and need some of their key questions answered as well as resources to help them understand and improve. Let’s take a look at five frequently asked questions and relevant resources:
Question 1: How can I communicate to managers and board members what our reporting should look like, what needs to be in our Statement, and when it should be completed? Or at least what our clients will need to report on, and so what they’re asking us about?
Answer: It’s probably most helpful to look at the ‘Guidelines for Reporting Entities’ produced by the Modern Slavery Business Engagement Unit within the Australian Border Force, that sets out the context, format and timelines for reporting. In summary, reporting should follow seven criteria, and an organisation’s modern slavery statement should be submitted to the Australian Border Force within six months after the end of their reporting period as well as clearly published online. With extensions to allow for COVID-19 disruption submissions must be made by 31 December 2020 for organisations reporting to a Foreign Financial Year (1 April to 31 March) and by 31 March 2021 for organisations reporting to an Australian Financial Year (1 July to 30 June).
Resource: The ‘Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act – Guidelines for Reporting Entities’ can be found at https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/criminal-justice/files/modern-slavery-reporting-entities.pdf
Question 2: One of my organisation’s key modern slavery risks is around labour and recruitment – specifically connected to migrant workers and those recruited overseas. How can we move towards ‘best practice’ in this area rather than just reducing our risks?
Answer: To start, it’s helpful to prioritise in terms of ‘risk of harm to people’, rather than the usual ‘likelihood of something occurring’ or ‘risk of reputational damage’. It’s also useful to think about ‘Responsible Recruitment’ as underpinning everything you do – whether in Australia or oversea – to ensure that every element is covered. In this way you can make sure that policies and procedures are inclusive, waves are paid regularly, directly and on time, and the right to worker representation is respected.
Resource: The Dhaka Principles provide a roadmap that traces a migrant worker from recruitment, through employment, to the end of contract, with key principles that employers and migrant recruiters should respect at each stage of the process to ensure migration and employment with dignity. ‘Core Principle A: Equal treatment, no discrimination’ is closely connected to ‘Core Principle B: All workers enjoy the protection of employment law’. The Guides to the Dhaka Principles are available in multiple languages, along with Implementation Guidance, at https://www.ihrb.org/dhaka-principles/downloads-translations
Question 3: I’m getting questions from our board and investors about what can be done to improve human rights throughout our operations and supply chains, but not sure where to begin?
Answer: Start with one of the wide-ranging toolkits available that look at multiple aspects of business and investment including how to understand current problems, how to look at supply chain due diligence, codes of conduct, corrective action and remedy, the basic legal obligations and frameworks, your reporting processes, tools for the financial sector to use, and how you might mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable workers.
Resource: The recently released Minderoo Foundation / Walk Free ‘Business and Investor Toolkit’ is designed to help businesses and investors take action to improve human rights standards in their supply chains and combat forced labour, human trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. It contains links to case studies, legal frameworks, research, and tools produced by Walk Free and other civil society organisations worldwide, and can be found at https://www.minderoo.org/walk-free/business/toolkit/
Question 4: There is so much talk about human rights risks through property, construction and infrastructure operations and supply chains right now that we don’t know where to turn. How can we understand these risks properly, so we know what to prioritise?
Answer: As Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, puts it so effectively: “Effective management of modern slavery risks involves placing ‘risks to people’ at the heart of your response. Taking a rights-based approach to addressing modern slavery will assist your business to meet the increasing expectations of investors, governments, clients, consumers, business peers and civil society around business respect for human rights.”
Resource: A new guide, ‘Property, Construction and Modern Slavery’, is part of a two-year collaboration between the Australian Human Rights Commission and KPMG helping businesses assess and address their modern slavery risks. The guide is relevant not only to property and construction organisations but also to their suppliers and investors, and outlines key modern slavery risks areas for the property and construction sector and provides practical examples. You can access it at https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/rights-and-freedoms/publications/property-construction-and-modern-slavery-2020
Question 5: We are struggling to raise awareness about human rights and modern slavery across our staff, suppliers, clients and peers; how can we make sure everyone is on the same page?
Answer: Make use of the excellent free resources that ALREADY exist before you start developing more.
Resource: The Supply Chain Sustainability School’s ‘Modern Slavery’ resource library is regularly updated and contains free elearning modules, videos, webinars, reports, guides, toolkits and posters. You can browse these free resources at https://www.supplychainschool.org.au/learn/modern-slavery/ and, more importantly, share them with your suppliers, staff or clients to encourage them to get across this important topic.
Many of School’s resources are referenced in the Property Council of Australia’s ‘Supplier Platform’, launched in late 2019 and free for suppliers to access, which asks key suppliers about the actions they are taking to assess and address human rights issues and modern slavery risks across shared operations and supply chains, provides learning opportunities, and tracks continuous improvement. Find out more, and read the assessment questions, at https://propertycouncil.informed365.com/.
Robin Mellon is one of Australia’s experts on sustainability in the built environment and is determined to leave the planet in a better shape than it was when he found it. Robin believes in a Better Sydney – better buildings, better communities and a better quality of life.