Most Australian businesses have turned a blind eye to modern slavery, including forced labour in their supply chains, despite new national rules designed to tackle the problem.
A new national report released by the International Justice Mission on Monday found that more than 90 per cent of Australian businesses have identified potential slavery risks in their supply chains.
But nearly 85 per cent of 404 company statements submitted under Australia’s Modern Slavery Act and analysed by the mission failed to show any response to actual or alleged slavery in operations or supply chains. Almost three quarters of company statements either did not satisfy or only just met basic reporting obligations.
International Justice Mission Australia chief executive Steve Baird said it was disappointing to find such a poor level of compliance.
“To see such a high level of non-compliance is quite confronting,” Mr Baird said. “While we acknowledge that modern slavery is a challenging issue to stamp out, particularly in complicated supply chains, it is incumbent upon every business to step up and get the job done. It is for the protection of millions of people around the world.”
The mission report found a handful of companies had lodged “gold-standard modern slavery statements”.
These included Outland Denim, which manufactures and sells jeans. It has created a system to assess the risk level of every employee. Founder James Bartle said his business was built on the principle of helping reduce modern slavery. It does this by providing employment opportunities to people at risk of being caught in slavery.
The company works with non-government organisations to help vulnerable communities with literacy and the provision of a living wage in the textile industry in countries including Cambodia.
Mr Bartle started the company after seeing the Liam Neeson film Taken, which made him aware that human trafficking was still prevalent. He later saw a young girl aged about 12 or 13 involved in prostitution in Thailand.
“I believe business has such a powerful function if used the right way,” he said.
“I think we’ve got a long way to go in making more people aware of the realities of modern slavery, human trafficking and how it could be alive within their own supply chain.
“When we understand that, it comes down to a personal moral choice about whether I am prepared to find it and be exposed, or am I just going to leave my head in the sand.”
Kathmandu is another company that has chosen to confront the potential for modern slavery in its supply chains. It uses a professional services company to provide risk “scorecards” on labour, health and safety standards within its supply chain. It also has a policy that makes it mandatory to report child labor and forced labor and provides training on modern slavery to its key suppliers in China.
Gary Shaw, who previously investigated cases of forced labour in Taiwan and has helped rescue children from sex trafficking in south-east Asia, works as a social impact manager for Kathmandu and other companies. He said he has seen young children sold for as little as $US30 per hour.
“Modern slavery is one of the most profitable business enterprises in the world, earning criminal groups more than $US150 billion annually,” he said. “Men from New Zealand and Australia are very much fuelling and driving that demand.”
A third of corporations in the study which reported sourcing products or operating in India identified one or more of the most common modern slavery practices including human trafficking, child labour, forced labour and debt bondage.
Products associated with a high risk of bonded labour included pearls and gemstones, clothing and other textiles, carpets, furniture, bedding, coffee and tea.