Date posted: 20/11/2018 3 min read

Business and Human Rights - start with a conversation

66.4% of the estimated 45.8 million modern slaves are from the Asia-Pacific region.

In Brief

  • The 2018 Australian Dialogue focused on Business and Human Rights
  • The fight against modern slavery is a journey that we will all take together
  • Reporting requirements have brought human rights and modern slavery into the spotlight in 2018

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand has been a longtime supporter and member of Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA). The United Nations Global Compact is the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative and the GCNA brings together signatories to the Compact in Australia. We recently attended the sold out Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights event in Sydney hosted by the GCNA and the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Dialogue brought together Australian business, government, civil society, investors and academia. Throughout the day, there was a strong message that encouraged collaboration to support continued implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

In June 2018, the first Modern Slavery Bill in Australia was accented in NSW, which requires businesses with a revenue turnover of $50 million and over with at least one employee in NSW to prepare a modern slavery statement.

Following the NSW Act, a Commonwealth Modern Slavery Bill was introduced and is still currently being debated in the Senate. This will require businesses with an annual consolidated revenue of at least $100 million to prepare a modern slavery statement. It is estimated that the Commonwealth Bill will cover about 3,000 companies and EY has predicted that up to 500 New Zealand businesses could be affected by their supplier relationship with Australian companies.

The modern slavery reporting requirements have brought human rights and modern slavery into the spotlight in Australia.

The many faces affected by modern slavery

The first session at the Dialogue brought together individuals who have directly experienced modern slavery or worked with survivors. The session highlighted the profound effects that modern slavery has on individuals, families and communities and not everyone survives to tell their story. One panellist shared that often it’s the most trusted people that will deceive, promising victims better lives and support for their families. But the reality is that often these vulnerable individuals end up being caught up in the many modern slavery practices (such as human trafficking, slavery, forced labour and child labour) with many even blaming themselves or too ashamed to try to break free.

The United Nations (UN) Global Compact Network in Australia estimates that 45.8 million are affected around the world with 66.4% of modern slaves being from the Asia-Pacific region, which includes Australia and New Zealand.

What can businesses do?

Start the conversation.

One of the panel's discussed the importance of starting the process even before the regulations hit our desks. 'It's about bringing everyone along for the journey and including all facets of the business, as many teams will be involved in some way or another. From the board, to legal teams, to procurement teams, to the finance and marketing team - everyone will need to be involved.'

It was suggested that to be prepared for the reporting requirements, a dry-run could be beneficial. Start from the beginning by mapping the processes and looking at the different risks from not only a commercial perspective but also from the perspective of an individual in your supply chain. It's also OK to seek help from experts, to look for guidance from other jurisdictions and organisations and to look at the magnitude of resources already published. By doing a voluntary report now, you can iron out the kinks and figure out how much time and investment is needed for the process.

Another panellist stated that investors are becoming more socially savvy and businesses should consider and invest in broader Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) areas including modern slavery as it's an investment in a company's long term strategy.

And what about small business? The messaging from the Dialogue was to be prepared. No matter how big or small your operations are, you can start having the conversations and prepare your business with a basic assessment of risks.

The clear messaging from sessions throughout the day was that it's not about the reporting and compliance, it's about individuals and businesses applying the spirit of the law. The modern slavery legislation is about how we can contribute towards the fight against breaches of an individual's fundamental human rights and it's a journey that we will all take together.

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand has brought together industry experts to assist you in taking the first steps in assessing your supply chains in preparation for the upcoming modern slavery reporting requirements. The webinar was held on Monday 19 November and is available as a complementary recording

Modern Slavery

Understand how Modern Slavery Reporting Requirements apply to your business and supply chains.

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Complimentary recording for AU members

Modern Slavery - What is it and how can business prepare?

Download here

Complimentary recording for NZ members

Modern Slavery - What is it and how can business prepare?

Download here