The Australian Modern Slavery Bill was introduced into the Australian Parliament in August of this year. The draft Australian Modern Slavery Act is similar in its purpose and requirements to the UK Modern Slavery Act Once enacted it will establish a Modern Slavery Reporting Requirement requiring large organisations in Australia to make annual public reports (Modern Slavery Statements) on their actions to address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains. What do Australian businesses need to do and how will they be effective?
Many Australian businesses may be unaware of the risk that they may have slavery in their business or supply chains. Modern Slavery can include forced labour, servitude and child labour. As at July 2018, the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimates there are in excess of 40 million people globally subject to some form of modern slavery and collectively approximately US$150 billion per year is generated in the global private economy from forced labour alone; 30,435,300 people in Asia-Pacific Region are ‘enslaved’ (66.4 per cent of all people enslaved); and 4,300 people in Australia are enslaved.
There are a growing number of companies and start-ups providing advice and tech solutions to help business address Modern Slavery (MS). These include supplier management, mapping software programs and analytics, worker phone apps, geofencing, and Blockchain technology, as well as more traditional approaches such as audit and inspection. Society, our community and shareholders are looking to companies to take responsibility for their supply chains and ensure that modern slavery does not exist or has been identified and effective mechanisms have been put in place.
Positive interventions may be needed. Approaches are at risk of not being effective if they lack consideration or understanding of cultural differences and context between Australia and many Asian cultures. In particular, a naivety around supplier attitudes to compliance is a common major shortcoming with current approaches to addressing modern slavery in supply chains.. Recognising and understanding the local context in which many suppliers operate is fundamental to the design or implementation of a successful approach.
Where modern slavery exists, many suppliers operate in a different cultural, political, legal, economic and business context to that of Australia. There are different local and regional power relationships, economic realities and development contexts in the countries of the Asia Pacific region.
It’s rarely effective to merely criticise from afar. For countries which are only now emerging economically, and, in with recent memories of Western colonisation or the threat thereof, such criticism can easily be perceived as ‘interfering’ in local affairs, taking a colonial approach, or not respecting local labour realities and labour migration.
It can be equally ineffective to take a purely compliance based approach. In countries where governance and capacity is poor, compliance is very difficult to monitor, and fraud can be commonplace. Unless significant economic and culturally relevant incentives exist to change, endemic fraud, corruption, and disregard for regulatory and compliance requirements will remain commonplace.
This cross-cultural divide needs to be understood when working with suppliers. Business must develop a set of skills for professionals with human resources, import/export, finance and procurement backgrounds to determine a tailored and effective approach. It is only when stakeholders (from business executives to suppliers) have an understanding of each others’ cultural drivers in relation to Modern Slavery and worker welfare, will any strategy have a meaningful chance of success.
What is critical to effect change, is also a focus on the cultural capability and nuancing needed to develop trusted company-supplier relationships. Without these, there can be no common sense of purpose or commitment and therefore no lasting change.
Change takes engagement and participation from all – Australian businesses must first understand the realities of Modern Slavery in the cultural context in which it takes place in order to be able to effect any positive change. At Beasley Intercultural, we want to ensure efforts to address modern slavery are as effective and high impact as possible. We know that effective communication, collaboration, and cultural awareness will be the key to making this change happen. Our programs and advisory services can support your organisation to build this capability and develop an effective strategy to combat modern slavery in your supply chains.
Our related services include:
Cultural Capability Training – online, blended or face to face solutions, delivered by cross cultural specialists with deep regional experience and insights into the realities of Modern Slavery.
Cultural Advisory Services – to support MS consultants and tech providers ensure their programs and interventions work in complex supply chains in Asia.
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Tamerlaine Beasley is an expert who enables effective collaboration and communication in diverse and global workplaces. She is a member of the Board of the Australia-ASEAN Council for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and founder and Managing Director of Beasley Intercultural, Australia’s premier cross-cultural training and consultancy company. Tamerlaine’s keynote presentations, advisory services and training programs are described by clients as ‘transformational’ and ‘game changing’. Examples of her work include: coaching and advising business leaders in Australia and Asia; working with global teams to optimise performance; developing a framework for training and capability building through international partnerships for APEC; building local staff capacity at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; leading the development of diversity and inclusion programs for the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Defence.