Business & Human Rights, News

Support builds for Australian Modern Slavery Act, with statements from the BCA and investors

UN Global Compact Network Australia | March 31, 2017

Support is building for an Australian Modern Slavery Act (MSA), with a statement from the Business Council of Australia calling for a comprehensive approach to the issue and the Principles for Responsible Investment calling on investors to sign a statement of support for an MSA with HESTA, IFM Investors and Cbus among the first to join.

Modern slavery continues to affect millions around the world, with some estimates putting the number at over 45 million with 66.4% being from the Asia-Pacific region2 – including in Australia and Australian supply chains.

Last month, the Australian Government announced an inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia to combat modern slavery, comparable to the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015. A key provision in the UK legislation requires certain companies to publish an annual statement which either outlines the steps they have taken during the year to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in their operations or supply chain, or states that the business has taken no such steps.

The Business Council of Australia has now issued a statement on modern slavery, with BCA’s president, Grant King, and chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, urging a comprehensive approach to combating modern slavery.

“Increased global trade has delivered great benefits for Australians, but it has also increased the risk that products and services have been tainted by the use of forced labour”, Mr King and Ms Westacott said.

“Businesses must not tolerate modern slavery anywhere in their supply chains, in Australia or overseas. We are pleased to see the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade commence an inquiry into possible legislation similar to the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act.”

The UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) has also responded to the inquiry, calling on superannuation funds and investors to sign a statement of support for an MSA. Investors including HESTA, IFM Investors and Cbus have been among the first to sign the statement.

“Human rights issues can present potential financial impacts through reputational damage and operational risks to portfolio companies,” said PRI Managing Director, Fiona Reynolds. “A Modern Slavery Act would improve transparency on how companies operating in Australia are managing modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains. It would also help investors make informed investment decisions and engage with companies to mitigate these risks.”

Leading Australian businesses are already implementing policies, identifying risks and engaging suppliers to address modern slavery risks in operations and supply chains but more must be done. Existing legislation regarding human rights in other jurisdictions – including the UK Modern Slavery Act, California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive – is also already providing investors insights into companies risks.

Next week, over 100 representatives from government, business and NGOs will gather in Sydney at the GCNA’s Modern Slavery Forum to better understand the impacts and risks of modern slavery, and inform submissions to the Government’s inquiry.

More information on the Government’s inquiry into an MSA, submission deadline Friday, 28 April 2017.

PRI media release

BCA statement

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UN Global Compact Network Australia