There are 27 million slaves in the world: is your business enslaving them?

modern slavery

Every product or service your business uses – do you know who was involved down to the smallest detail? It might be a product of modern slavery. The only way to find out is by analysing your supply chains to the source, a task the proposed Modern Slavery Act will encourage and one that your investors and civil society will increasingly demand.

Modern slavery is rising up the agenda for Australian businesses, after the recent announcement of the Indo-Pacific Modern Slavery Acts’ coupled with the Australian Government’s consultation paper – and for good reason. It is the fastest-growing international issue, estimated to be worth a minimum of US$32 billion per year, behind only the illegal drugs and arms trade.

While Australia’s proposed Modern Slavery Act, based on the learnings of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, is still exploring questions of best management, it’s undoubtable that all businesses have an ethical responsibility to ensure there are no human rights abuses occurring as a result of their operations.

Is your business aiding modern slavery?

The risk of human rights violations occurring somewhere within a company’s supply chains is real and no business should be complacent, no matter how large or small. But some industries are more at risk than others.

Some consumer-facing businesses, such as those in retail or food and beverage, are already addressing modern slavery within supply chains after mounting pressure from NGOs, and media coverage of the Bangladesh Rana Plaza collapse and human trafficking in Thailand fisheries.

For industries such as construction, supply chain analysis for social risks is in its infancy, but the need to investigate modern slavery is twofold: firstly, due to the intense and fluctuating demand of labour and indirect levels of labour hire; secondly, due to the significant spend on large quantities of materials, products, or parts of products that comprise construction or infrastructure projects.

Do you want to get an idea of how many modern slaves might be entrapped in your supply chain? Scroll down to a link to a modern slavery calculator – the reality of the situation might shock you.

Out of sight

It’s difficult to imagine that modern slavery may be occurring on our very own work sites, thanks to Australia’s strong labour laws and worker rights.

But modern slavery occurs within the hidden space of the informal economy. It happens through discrete methods such as withholding documents or wages, psychological abuse, threats of deportation or threats to family, excessive hours, or abusive living or working conditions. It’s this lack of visibility that allows these instances to go undetected and under-reported. The risk accumulates even quicker when supply chains cross international borders.

But not out of mind any longer

For companies captured in the legal reporting threshold of a Modern Slavery Act, the task of mitigating supply chain risk or having the knowledge to disclose procurement information confidently can be overwhelming.

Considering the UK experience, the strongest lessons are that:

  • It’s ok not to know everything now, and
  • You simply have to start somewhere.

What is encouraging about the proposed Modern Slavery Act is that everyone is at the starting line together – and there’s opportunity for leadership and innovation.

A deeper understanding of your business’s supply chain brings the chance for business improvement, while disclosure and transparency enables information-sharing and encourages positive competition.

The consumer market is ready – the growing trend is for social and ethical procurement and slavery-free supply chains. And when it’s the inhumane treatment of men, women and children at stake, it’s not difficult to understand why.

Edge can help any business analyse and understand the many forms of modern slavery. The more accurate information you have about your local or global supply chain, the better informed your decision-making. Our modeling can help map the areas of vulnerability, and develop tailored process and policy for improved governance. We are keen to offer our experience in supply chains and procurement along with our commitment to help eradicate slavery. Get in touch if you think we can help.

In the meantime, this modern slavery calculator can help you estimate how many slaves are entrapped within your supply chain: http://slaveryfootprint.org

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