How to detect modern slavery and is it time to overhaul the law in Australia?

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Modern slavery practices have earned private businesses about US $150 billion in profits, a white paper by supply chain software company Avetta says. 

‘Eradicating Modern Day Slavery in Global Supply Chains’ says the International Labour Organisation found exploitative labour practices have earned private businesses almost US $150 billion in profits.

Avetta say there’s an “invisible threat” of modern slavery facing supply chains with tens of millions believed to be exposed to working under duress and various degrees of enforcement globally (ILO).

 It can also be prevalent in our everyday lives with an estimated 15,000 people experiencing modern slavery in Australia. (Lawyers weekly)

“It can be difficult to pinpoint instances of modern day slavery due to its ambiguous nature. Much of it can be hidden in the far reaches of global supply chains remaining invisible to organisations, businesses, regulatory bodies as well as the consumer,” Avetta’s whitepaper says. 

Dr. Shamir Ghumra, from BREEAM, the leading science-based suite of validation and certification systems for sustainable built environment, says that modern day supply chains are dynamic and constantly evolving. 

He says even products purportedly locally made may contain ingredients and components  from elsewhere. The sheer magnitude and complexity of current global procurement practice has made it difficult to trace whether labour and raw materials used in the manufacture or creation of a product are sourced fairly. 

Avetta says supply chains are “broken” due to a lack of modern slavery detection processes. 

“The complex and multi-tiered structure of global supply chains have created ‘blind spots’ that have allowed trafficking and forced labour to exploit these gaps and in some areas of the world the issue has become endemic,” Avetta says. 

Awareness, or the lack thereof, especially in the case of some of the individuals who are subject to this practice, complicates matters.

“Supply chain links are often geographically dispersed, making it difficult for companies to identify exactly where the problems lie and how to tackle them. Businesses could unwittingly be involved in forced labour if they partner with vendors or suppliers engaged in illicit practices.”

In Australia, horticulture and meat processing are the highest risk to modern slavery. Elsewhere sourcing fish from Asia is considered high risk, and cotton and textiles and clothing from China is high risk due to forced labour.

What the law states

The Australian Government made the Modern Slavery Act law in 2019.

The Act requires companies earning a consolidated revenue of AUD 100 million, to audit their supply chains and supply chain partners for any risk of slavery or exploitative practices.

Reporting companies must also submit assessment reports and statements.

Calls for tougher slavery laws

Since the election, calls have been strengthening for the Government to establish an anti-slavery commissioner to beef up Australia’s approach to combatting modern slavery. 

Tougher conditions are also being suggested for companies who import / procure products or services from the locations listed by the Commissioner, with the importer being required to prove that the acquired goods are not made with forced labour, MinterEllison reports.

Types of modern slavery

Bonded Labour 

Bonded labour is regarded as one of primary forms of slavery after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished. People typically become bonded labourers after falling into debt and being forced to work for free to repay the lender – many unable to ever pay back the debts. , Avetta says it flourishes in sectors like agriculture, brick manufacturing, mills and tea plantations. 

Descent-Based Slavery 

Avetta says according to the World Economic Forum descent-based slavery exists in countries that have strict hierarchical social structures; intrinsic and informal characteristics of certain economic systems. 

People can be born into slavery due to their families belonging to a class or caste of ‘slaves’. 

Forced Labour

Forced labour occurs for no or inadequate payment, as a result of violence or intimidation. Many victims are  trapped, often in a foreign country, with their passports confiscated by employers, and unable to leave. Sex work is often also classified as slavery and can be found in communities such as hostess bars, exotic dancing locations, etc. 

Child Labour

The ILO estimates currently 64 million girls and 88 million boys engaged in child labor – half of which are in severely hazardous conditions. Agricultural suppliers specifically, have come under fire for employing children on farms and plantations,” Avetta says. 

Children in Africa known to be are trafficked to work on cocoa farms with global supply chain networks. Indian tea plantations have also been exposed for employing children as tea pickers.

Avetta says there is no one-size-fits all approach to combat modern slavery. You can access seven steps which to help make your workplace safer and minimize the risk of slavery. 

About Author

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PASA (Procurement and Supply Australasia) is the leading provider of information, education and networking opportunities to procurement professionals throughout Australia and New Zealand. PASA supports the largest community of engaged procurement stakeholders in the region, through its renowned series of events, publications, training, awards and PASA CONNECT membership network. PASA is a trading name of BTTB Marketing Pty Ltd. BTTB Marketing has operated under the BTTB, CIPSA Conferences and PASA names for over twenty years. https://procurementandsupply.com/

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