The United Nations (UN) estimates there are approximately 40 million victims of modern slavery around the world. Modern slavery involves exploitative practices including human trafficking, slavery, debt bondage, forced marriage and child labour. With increased globalisation and expanding supply chains often crossing multiple borders, it can be extremely difficult for organisations to have a clear and transparent view of their supply chain and how it may be part of the modern slavery trade. Sadly, while modern slavery practices can involve horrendous crimes and human rights violations, it also distorts global markets and undercuts responsible businesses, through the exploitation of unpaid labour and poor working conditions. While there is an inherent moral impetus to eradicate modern slavery, it cannot be achieved without a combined effort between government, business, investors and consumers. The introduction of the Modern Slavery Act is a positive step to making big business more accountable for addressing modern slavery in their operations.
The Australian Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act 2018 came into effect on 1 January 2019. The legislation requires entities (including foreign) operating in Australia with more than AUD$100 million in annual revenue, to submit an annual Modern Slavery Statement demonstrating the steps they are taking to assess and address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chain. While the new legislation has received some criticism for not imposing financial penalties on entities that fail to report, it does empower investors, non-government anti-slavery organisations and consumers, with a central and publicly available report card. With the growing social movement towards ethical brands, the heightened media attention and access to consumer mobile apps such as Good On You and Baptist World Aid Australia Fashion Guide, which provides shoppers with ethical brand ratings in the palm of their hands; avoiding reporting responsibilities, may do more harm than good.
Whether you feel morally obliged or your organisation is legislated to do so, addressing modern slavery in your operations and end-to-end supply chain makes good business sense. By demonstrating the integrity and quality of your operations and supply chain, you may improve investor relations and financing opportunities, while also enriching relationships with your local communities, workers and end consumers.
To find out more about the Modern Slavery Act visit homeaffairs.gov.au
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