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PUBLICATION | Modern Slavery Risk Management – A playbook for Australian SMEs

Julia Bourke | June 24, 2023

UN Global Compact Network Australia (UNGCNA) is pleased to announce that on United Nations SME Day 2023, we are releasing our latest guidance publication: Modern Slavery Risk Management: A playbook for Australian SMEs to identify, assess and mitigate modern slavery risks.

Modern slavery remains a key human rights risk for Australian businesses of all sizes and sectors. This publication both raises awareness and provides support to Australian businesses—with a specific focus on SMEs—as they identify, manage and mitigate their risk of being involved in modern slavery.

Importance of engaging with SME businesses

Globally, small to medium-sized businesses (‘SMEs’) account for 90 per cent of all businesses and up to 45 per cent of total employment. Within Australia, although most small businesses are not yet required to report under the Modern Slavery Act 2018, many are indirectly subject to its requirements through their business relationships. When surveyed, SME participants of the UNGCNA indicated that they are often requested to conduct modern slavery risk assessments or complete modern slavery questionnaires for larger customers and clients, as well as engage on the issue during the contracting and tendering process. As larger businesses work to embed respect for human rights throughout their organisations, the expectation for SMEs to be able to show they are also meeting this responsibility will increase.

Defining the challenge

While all businesses, regardless of size, have a responsibility to respect all internationally recognised human rights, SMEs face a different set of challenges in meeting this responsibility. Smaller companies typically have less leverage over their business relationships and limited available time and resources. Additionally, many of the sectors that are at highest risk of contributing to labour exploitation – such as cleaning, security, hospitality and labour hire – are in fact comprised predominantly of SME businesses. Taken together, these factors make introducing modern slavery risk management particularly difficult for many small organisations.

The opportunity for SME businesses in Australia

Engaging the SME cohort presents a significant opportunity to take meaningful action toward addressing modern slavery in Australia. The publication we’re releasing today outlines five practical steps that SMEs can follow to identify, manage and mitigate their risk of being involved in modern slavery. The five steps are UNGP aligned and can also help companies meet evolving expectations for broader human rights risks.

These five steps include:

  1. 1. Make the public policy commitment
  2. 2. Know the signs and understand your risks
  3. 3. Take targeted action to address those risks
  4. 4. Listen to your team and workers in your value chain
  5. 5. Communicate effectively

Modern Slavery Risk Management: A Playbook for SMEs is the latest in a series designed to build capacity of Australian businesses to combat modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Impact Initiative (MSII) has been made possible by grant funding from the Australian Government as part of the National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery. The views expressed in this video are the presenter’s alone and are not necessarily the views of the Australian Government.

Download the playbook here:

Next steps: Join our Modern Slavery Community of Practice

article by

Julia Bourke