Modern Slavery: Is your supply chain benefiting from slavery?

Modern Slavery is insidious and endemic, and it could be affecting your business without your knowledge.  Slavery didn’t end with the Abolition Act in 1833; it’s a human rights abuse that is happening right now, today, in industries we are all a part of as either producers or consumers. Fishing, cocoa, cotton, fashion, cannabis, construction – to name a few.

Fortunately, steps are being taken to fight back and cleanse supply chains, and the Modern Slavery Act of 2018 is one of them.

First, a bit of history about slavery…

Stands against slavery are beacons of light in a dark past, and often taken by those less fortunate and powerful than we are today. In 1862, textile mills in Manchester dressed the world. They were staffed by ordinary workers in a time before large-scale social security but, despite this, these Mancunians took a stand against slavery.

They were vocal in their support of Abraham Lincoln’s blockade of southern cotton, even though their own mills would have benefitted greatly from it, and stood against slavery in their supply chain. Through all this, and because of it, they faced starvation and destitution.

What is modern slavery?

At its core, slavery today is very similar to what it was in the 19th century; it is forced labour often without remuneration. The ‘forced’ aspect is key because the term ‘modern slavery’ only covers the most egregious of exploitations, where detained adults and children are forced into work. Modern slavery does not cover other breaches of human rights, such as those around worker health and safety.

It’s important to note that just because a worker receives remuneration does not necessarily make their situation any less slave-like. Many migrant workers around the world have their freedom of movement denied once they arrive at their host country, meaning they cannot quit no matter the reason.

Also, in many cases, despite the pay, workers (or slaves) may be saddled with so much debt they may as well be chained to the loom. To be clear, ‘chained to the loom’ isn’t a metaphor but the actual fate of many adults and children around the world.

The requirements of the Modern Slavery Act

The Modern Slavery Act requires businesses and other organisations who have a consolidated revenue of $100 million AUD to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. The Act also stipulates that the organisations list what actions they have taken to assess and address those risks and the effectiveness of their response. The reporting is voluntary for smaller businesses.

It should be noted that, at this time, the government has opted not to impose financial penalties on organisations that choose not to submit a report. However, because the reports that are submitted will be held in a public registry maintained by the Commonwealth, those who don’t report can be named and shamed.

Many activists believe the absence of a financial penalty will reduce the rate of compliance. Given the ethical and moral clarity of the issue, though, what company wouldn’t comply?

How to cleanse your supply chain of slavery

For the Mancunian mill workers in 1862, identifying slave labour was straightforward: 60% of the cotton they used in their textiles came from southern, slave-owning states in the US. Today, though, complex global supply chains make it harder for companies to do the right thing. Fortunately, when there’s a need, there’s a way, and some organisations have risen to the challenge.

Everledger, for example, works with companies such as Apple to ensure supply chains are ethical, accountable and transparent. Everledger uses blockchain technology, which is at the forefront in providing mechanisms that allow businesses to trust, verify and record the provenance of goods and services in their supply chains.

At Comprara, we can help you put in place mechanisms that enable you to comply with the Modern Slavery Act and eliminate slave labour from your supply chain. Unlike the mill workers in the 19th century, you won’t have to risk starvation or destitution when you take a stand against slavery alongside Comprara.