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Businesses must implement methods to address modern slavery complaints as COVID-19 exacerbates the issue

Kylie Porter | March 31, 2021

Global Compact Network Australia releases guidance series on Effective Modern Slavery Grievance Mechanisms for Business

With modern slavery hidden within opaque global supply chains, the Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA) has launched two publications to help Australian businesses increase their understanding and capacity to implement effective grievance mechanisms to address the issue.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, there are an estimated 40.3 million people living in modern slavery conditions worldwide, including 16 million in private sector supply chains. It is particularly prevalent in vulnerable groups including women, children and migrant workers.

The data highlighting modern slavery shows the crucial role that business has to play to help eradicate modern slavery. Implementation of effective grievance mechanisms is one important action that businesses can take to help ensure that they are not only preventing their involvement but also address modern slavery where it occurs in their operations or supply chains.

Business-led grievance mechanisms can take a range of forms including general Speak-Up hotlines, worker voice apps or human rights focused complaints procedures. Their aim should be to establish a consistent, trusted process to enable concerned parties to speak up, communicate issues, and where necessary, seek remedy without retaliation.

The GCNA’s newly published ‘Effective Modern Slavery Grievance Mechanisms: A Case Study Publication for Business’ offers a basis for understanding the expectations set out in the UNGPs in relation to grievance mechanisms. While implementing effective grievance mechanisms to tackle modern slavery remains challenging, Australian businesses can utilise the case studies, that draw on types of grievance mechanisms used across a range of sectors both in Australia and globally, in the publication to design and implement their own effective grievance mechanisms.

Vanessa Zimmerman, Board Director and Chair of Business and Human Rights and the Modern Slavery Community of Practice at the Global Compact Network Australia, explained, “During 2020, we saw first-hand the impact significant border closures and demands on supply chains can have on exacerbating the vulnerabilities that can lay the foundation for modern slavery. Unfortunately, we also know that instances of modern slavery are increasingly underreported, and therefore largely unaddressed. Through commitment and ambitious action to work more closely with suppliers and workers to ensure modern slavery complaints have a legitimate place to be heard, businesses can better meet their responsibility to respect for human rights and minimise risks to the business.”

By implementing or participating in grievance mechanisms that are capable of hearing and addressing modern slavery and broader human rights complaints, businesses can meet expectations set through the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth).

Global Compact Network Australia Executive Director, Kylie Porter said, “The GCNA recognises that not all grievance mechanisms are effective. Where mechanisms are not fit-for-purpose they risk becoming a simple ‘check-box’ activity for business that leave vulnerable people, and the business, open to risk. As the Australian arm of the UN Global Compact, we aim to provide the tools needed by business to act responsibly across their operations and supply chains.”

A companion publication, ‘Implementing Effective Modern Slavery Grievance Mechanisms: A Guidance Note for Business’, offers practical advice, flags key considerations, and outlines good practice steps for designing and implementing effective grievance mechanisms. This publication series supports business to know how to better hear and address instances of modern slavery, also enabling more comprehensive reporting under the Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth).

In April 2020, the GCNA was awarded a grant under the National Community Crime Prevention Program by the Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon. Jason Wood MP. These publications were funded by this Grant and seeks to support the implementation of Australia’s National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020-25.

To read more about the Effective Modern Slavery Grievance Mechanisms publication series, download the Case Study Report here and the Guidance Note here.

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Kylie Porter

Kylie is a sustainability expert with over 18 years of experience in corporate affairs, sustainability and strategy roles across a broad range of industries. During her career, Kylie has helped numerous companies develop and implement responsible business strategies, managed reputation risk for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues and wrote and managed policies across various thematic areas including climate change and human rights.