Modern slavery, the Trojan Horse

Modern slavery, the Trojan Horse for business & human rights

In April, our very own Alan Dayeh spoke at the 2019 National Sustainability Conference on the importance of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act to Procurement teams, Sustainability teams, and company Directors. He likened the topic of modern slavery as the ‘Trojan Horse’ for Business and Human Rights. However, unlike the destructive outcome of the Trojan War, he spoke about how the topic of modern slavery is the entry point or the ‘thin part of a wedge’ to a broader focus on human rights across the business.

While emerging disclosure-based modern slavery and supplier transparency legislation abroad and locally can be considered by some to be simple from a strict compliance perspective, the truth is that it notes the beginning of a larger challenge of human rights for businesses. With this challenge there are hidden dangers that procurement and sustainability teams, and indeed Directors need to be aware of!

The Australian Modern Slavery Act (2018) makes clear its alignment with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). This means that organisations who take a simplistic approach to meeting modern slavery legislation without thinking about their broader human rights impacts do so at their peril.

Here’s a snapshot of the key points:

Procurement managers need to understand that it won’t be enough to simply ask suppliers a few questions on slavery in order to tick a box as other human rights issues impact the supply chain. They need to:

  1. Go beyond tier 1 suppliers
  2. Be aware of other human rights risks that go beyond modern slavery
  3. Capture data and regularly engage with suppliers and the sustainability team

Sustainability managers need to understand that modern slavery is part of a global trend towards increased disclosure and assessment of human rights impacts across the whole value chain of their business and will need to integrate these perspectives in their existing frameworks and reporting. They need to:

  1. Support/guide the business in adopting the UNGPs and creating a human rights policy commitment
  2. Map material topics through to relevant human rights
  3. Determine salient issues and incorporate into human rights due diligence

Directors need to understand that the processes by which their organisations consider the issue of Business and Human Rights will be critical to meeting modern slavery legislation as well as meeting the UNGPs. They need to understand the types of questions they could be asking of management regarding the associated risks.

Questions like:

  1. Across our value chain, including our core operations, what are our most significant impacts on people (not just the business)? – Have we performed a Human Rights Impact Assessment? And do we know our most salient issues?
  2. What are the brand and operational risks as a result of issues in the supply chain?
  3. What are the impacts to the business if accused or responsible for breaches in human rights?

This article was written by Alan Dayeh, Managing Principal at Point Advisory.