Modern slavery is a grave issue that affects millions of people worldwide. According to the latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery in 2021, a staggering number of individuals, approximately 50 million, find themselves trapped in modern slavery situations each day. These individuals are either forced into labour against their will or coerced into marriages they did not choose.
The prevalence of modern slavery in Australia is alarming, underscoring the urgent need to address this pervasive issue and protect the rights and well-being of those affected. In this article, we will explore how to identify and assess modern slavery risks in your operations, and why it is essential to do so.
What Is Modern Slavery?
Modern slavery refers to various forms of exploitation and coercion, where individuals are forced into labour or subjected to human trafficking against their will. It encompasses practices, such as forced labour, debt bondage, child labour and human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, modern slavery exists in many industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, construction, hospitality and even within global supply chains.
So what are the indicators of modern day slavery? Here are some of the things to look out for:
- Restriction of movement: Individuals may be unable to move freely, either within the workplace or outside of it. They may have their identification documents confiscated, be under constant surveillance or face threats if they attempt to leave.
- Poor working and living conditions: Modern slavery often thrives in environments where workers are subjected to deplorable conditions, such as overcrowded accommodations, lack of access to clean water and sanitation and inadequate safety measures.
- Excessive working hours: Slavery-like conditions often involve excessively long working hours without proper breaks, rest days or holidays. This can indicate that workers are being exploited and their basic rights violated.
- Withheld wages and debt bondage: Individuals trapped in modern slavery may have their wages withheld or paid below the minimum wage. They may also be trapped in a cycle of debt, where they owe money to their employers or labour brokers, leading to further exploitation.
- Lack of freedom of association: Modern slavery often involves the suppression of workers’ rights to form or join trade unions and collectively bargain for better working conditions. The absence of such rights can indicate an environment conducive to exploitation.
How Do You Identify and Assess Modern Slavery in Your Operations?
Identifying and assessing modern slavery risks within your operations requires a systematic approach. Some steps you can take are:
- Conduct a risk assessment
Start by evaluating your supply chains and operations to identify areas where modern slavery risks may be present. Consider factors, such as geographical locations, high-risk industries and the involvement of labour brokers or recruitment agencies.
- Engage with suppliers and contractors
Establish open lines of communication with your suppliers and contractors to gain insights into their labour practices and policies. Request information about their modern slavery statement and policies, codes of conduct and training programs for their employees.
- Collaborate with industry peers
Engaging with industry associations and peers can help you stay informed about best practices and share knowledge and experiences related to combating modern slavery. Collaboration allows for collective action and can drive positive change across sectors.
- Implement due diligence measures
Implement robust due diligence procedures to identify, prevent and mitigate modern slavery risks. This includes conducting regular audits, assessments and site visits to ensure compliance with ethical standards and legal requirements.
- Educate your workforce
Raise awareness among your employees about modern slavery risks and how to identify and report potential cases. Training programs and regular communication channels can empower your employees to be vigilant and play an active role in combating modern slavery.
Why Should You Identify and Resolve Modern Slavery Risks?
Identifying and resolving modern slavery risks is not only an ethical imperative but also a legal obligation. In Australia, the Modern Slavery Act requires certain entities to prepare and submit annual modern slavery statements. These statements outline the steps taken to identify, assess and address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains.
Beyond legal compliance, there are several compelling reasons to prioritise addressing modern slavery risks:
- Protect your reputation
Being associated with modern slavery can severely damage your brand’s reputation and lead to significant financial and legal consequences. Customers and investors increasingly expect businesses to operate responsibly and ethically.
- Enhance supply chain resilience
By proactively addressing modern slavery risks, you can create a more resilient and sustainable supply chain. This includes reducing the potential for disruptions caused by legal or reputational issues, while also fostering stronger relationships with suppliers committed to ethical practices. Other reasons why you should take into account modern slavery in your supply chain are here.
- Attract and retain talent
Employees today are seeking employers that align with their values and demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility. Taking a stand against modern slavery can help attract and retain top talent who value ethical business practices.
How Madison Marcus Can Help You
At Madison Marcus, our ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) division specialises in advising corporate entities on a full range of corporate governance and ESG issues. Our team of experts works closely with clients’ boards, management and legal teams to provide bespoke services on constantly evolving legal and regulatory issues, with a distinct focus on stakeholder engagement.
Our ESG specialists can assist you in:
- Assisting in supply chain audits and supplier engagement.
- Providing guidance on reporting and compliance obligations.
- Conducting thorough risk assessments and due diligence measures.
- Drafting modern slavery statements in compliance with the Modern Slavery Act.
- Developing and implementing comprehensive modern slavery policies and procedures.
With our broad expertise and experience, we can help you navigate the complexities of modern slavery risks and ensure your business operates responsibly and ethically, while also meeting legal requirements.
For all enquiries, contact us here.