9-11 May 2023
ICC Sydney

Busting the Human Rights and Modern Slavery Myths

Jul 31, 2020 Sustainability

The property, building and construction sector are considered to be of high risk of modern slavery, occurring both in Australia and on overseas supply chains. Read the key takeaways from Edge Environment's webinar.

To mark World Day Against Trafficking in Persons , Edge Environment and Better Sydney held their ‘Busting the Human Rights and Modern Slavery myths’ webinar facilitated by Robin Mellon (Better Sydney) and joined by expert panellists including Nicole Thompson (Edge Environment), Vanessa Zimmerman (Pillar Two), James Bartle (Outland Denim) and Eric Boone (K&L Gates).

World figures

Current figures show that people are most commonly trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced begging, forced marriage; for selling children and as child soldiers, as well as for the removal of organs. Women make up 49% and girls another 23% of all victims of trafficking.

Research shows that most victims are trafficked within their countries’ borders, and those trafficked abroad are often moved to the richest countries. The property, building, and construction sector are considered to be of high-risk of modern slavery, occurring both in Australia and on overseas supply chains.

The webinar aimed to draw from panellist’s experiences working on the topic over the last several years, they shared learnings by busting the common myths and misconceptions about modern slavery that they often hear. With over 140 people registering,  this clearly demonstrated that the issue of modern slavery is front of mind for businesses and that it’s recognised to be a salient issue that needs to be addressed urgently and genuinely.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the session included:  

Company transparency

Yes, it’s ok to include information in your company Modern Slavery Statement about the risks of modern slavery that have been found in your supply chains and operations. In fact, it is even encouraged. Transparency is the key to combating modern slavery and best practice is to not shy away from sharing information about risks and how they are managed. Organisations have common supply chains and the more collaboration and sharing of information the stronger the response.

Prioritising risks

Companies should not always prioritise risk in their biggest spend first. Spend doesn’t always equate to modern slavery risk. When prioritising where to focus mitigation efforts first, spend is one consideration. But we know that often smaller spend items can carry some of the highest risk such as merchandise, low skilled service contracts, materials or products from within the supply chain.

The Spice Girls T-shirts is an example of one such product being called out for worker exploitation. The advised approach for risk prioritisation was to develop criteria for prioritisation which could include identifying where the most harm to people is, at what proximity is the risk to the business, where can the business have the most influence or leverage over suppliers, or which suppliers need the most support.

Keep up the conversation

It’s a myth that “organisations can’t ask suppliers to do anything extra, as they know even less about human rights and modern slavery than we do.” Experience in supplier engagement so far shows that there is a low level of knowledge about human rights and modern slavery, but organisations have a responsibility and role to ask suppliers to increase their awareness year-on-year.

The Modern Slavery Act expects larger organisations to work with their (prioritised) suppliers to address skill gaps and that this approach is much more effective than waiting and ‘doing it later’.

On the same day, the Australian Government marked World Day Against Trafficking in Persons with the launch of its Online Register for Modern Slavery Statements. The new website, where anyone can freely search and view a company’s Modern Slavery Statement, includes a new toolkit of resources. Modern Slavery Statements will be publicly available as they commence being published later this month.

If you missed Edge Environment’s live webinar – you can watch it in full here.

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