On Thursday February 15 I attended Parliament House in Canberra to hear more about the progress of the Australian Modern Slavery Act. In 2015 the UK enacted legislation on Modern Slavery, which we hope will soon be replicated in Australia.
Around 40 million people worldwide – men, women and children, are victims of modern slavery, which includes forced labour in manufacturing, agriculture, food production, construction and commercial sexual exploitation. More than two thirds of these people are in the Asia Pacific
Australia is not immune to this issue. Both within our country and through the supply chains we benefit from. The supply chain of products we buy is complex, and, as discovered by many who have taken the time to look, you don’t have to go too far to discover slavery. Andrew Forrest, Chairman Walk Free Foundation has personally made a commitment to ending modern slavery, after discovering human slavery within his company’s own supply chain (AFR: Modern Slavery in Global Supply Chains)
At yesterday’s hearing, David Cooke, Chairman and MD of Konica Minolta explained how they are enacting change in their supply chain and the links to managing business risk (KM receives anti-slavery Australia freedom award). As he said “this needs to be at the top of the agenda in board rooms across Australia” Other panelists sited insights from Nestle about what they have learned, how transparency around this has worked for them, and what they are doing about it.
A Modern Slavery Act for Australia, similar to legislation in the UK will require the business community to review the existence of slavery within their supply chains. It is important this new legislation actively encourages businesses to look deep into their operations and act on any findings. There is a risk, that without a nuanced approach, victims of modern slavery will be even more vulnerable. It’s critical that legislation is designed to ensure support for victims.
We at Beasley Intercultural are keen to support the business case for, and more importantly, the ability, to enact change in this area. What’s going to make the difference for the next stage is the ‘how’. Business needs to step up and get engaged in the conversation, and ensure a positive outcome, which makes a difference to some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and doesn’t simply add to red tape or compliance reporting.
Prime Minister Turnbull has indicated that legislation should be drafted and before parliament this year. Support is strong across the political spectrum, and the NGO and community sectors that are at the frontline of supporting victims. Leaders in the global business sector want to address this issue and do the right thing. Let’s now take this to the next level and get something done, and soon.