Australian big businesses to play role in stopping modern slavery

Big businesses will have to start finding out what they can do to stop modern slavery in their operations and supply chains from next month, but an expert said many companies have not taken enough notice yet.

More than 40 million people worldwide, including 15,000 Australians, are believed to be victims of modern slavery and big businesses in Australia will soon have to start assessing the risk of slavery in their operations and supply chains.

Starting next month, under Federal legislation, businesses with turnovers of more than $100 million will have to make a declaration of what they are doing to stamp out slavery in their operations and supply chains.

The first reporting year will cover the period from July 2019 to the end of June 2020.

SD Strategies director Sonja Duncan, who has advised several organisations, including St Vincent's Health Australia, on modern slavery risks, said the new regulations will make organisations more accountable.

“With the 1 July, which is the start of the reporting period, businesses really need to start thinking seriously about what action they are going to take to assess and address the risk of slavery in their operations and supply chains,” she told SBS News.

The garment industry has been in spotlight for bad working conditions for a while.
Source: AAP

“They have a 12 month period now to understand those risks so that by the end of that 12 months period they can prepare their report, which is the modern slavery statement, which becomes a public document.”

“I think a lot of businesses are looking at the statement as a starting point, but it’s actually the endpoint of the process, as it’s effectively a report of the actions that they have taken from July 2019.”

Modern slavery practices include people trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and forced marriage.

Businesses most at risk for modern slavery include the textile industry, mining, the construction sector, financial services and healthcare.

Migrant workers on a fishing boat Phuket, Thailand. Thailand's fishing industry is rife with slave labour.
Source: Getty Images

The seafood industry is also badly affected.

The Walk Free Foundation Founder Andrew Forrest earlier commended MPs for passing the bill.

“An Australian Modern Slavery Act is essential if Australia is going to play a role in making slavery a thing of the past,” he said earlier.

But Ms Duncan said the main challenges a lot of businesses face are a lack of resourcing and a gap in understanding where within their business the new rules should be rolled out.

She said many business leaders in Australia take the issue seriously and there are some companies that have already addressed or are working on the issue, but she said: “there’s a slowness in uptake”.

“There’s this, maybe, a bit of a head in the sand approach to it, ‘we’ll get there and all we’ll have to do is write a statement’, but I think there needs to be a much clearer understanding in the business community that the statement is the endpoint of this, it’s the work that has to happen in the 12 months leading up to it.”

Published 19 June 2019 at 2:46pm, updated 19 June 2019 at 3:42pm
By Dubravka Voloder