Written by Erin Wallis, a consultant at The Difference Incubator (TDi).
TDi exist to awaken the possibility of doing good and making money in businesses.  They work with not-for-profits, corporates, and social entrepreneurs across the Pacific and Australia to return to the roots of business, reconnecting social return and financial return.  You can visit their site here: http://tdi.org.au/
Photo courtesy of Well Made Clothes

Modern slavery refers to slavery as it exists in the world today, which entraps people through forced labour, being owned or controlled by their employer, dehumanised or treated like a commodity, or physically constrained.  More than 40 million people globally are in modern slavery.

In March, TDi was invited to Stop the Traffik’s inaugural modern slavery conference.  This came about because the Modern Slavery Act passed in parliament last year. Stop the Traffik campaigned for years to make this happen. The Act is a landmark achievement which will push significant reforms across many sectors.

The conference covered modern slavery from a range of perspectives to create a comprehensive understanding of the issue but focused in particular on forced labour in supply chains. We heard from an on-the-ground activist, Government representatives, organisations addressing modern slavery within their own supply chain, and practitioners who provide ethical supply chain solutions.

The conference finished off with a series of practical workshops so attendees could start addressing modern slavery in their own workplace, at either an individual or organisational level.  TDi’s CEO, Anthea, ran a workshop on private and public partnerships to create shared value as an innovative solution to develop ethical supply chains.

The conference was a call-to-action for organisations to identify and address modern slavery in their supply chains that could be summarised in the following three steps:

1. Identifying the connection to the problem

Modern slavery is an issue that affects all of us, whether we know it or not.  The conference dispelled the commonly held myth that modern slavery is associated with forced sex labour.  This does make up an awful part of modern slavery, however, the majority of people – 64% – are enslaved in the supply chain, which is reinforced by the demand for cheap consumer goods.  As much as AU$17 billion gets spent on ‘slavery tainted’ products/services in Australia every year.

Therefore, in a business context, modern slavery needs to be identified in the deep layers of an organisation: their partners and supply chain. Again, highlighting how close to home the problem really is, one speaker noted the modern slavery that exists on our doorstep.  Globally, 40 million people are affected by modern slavery, and upwards of 30 million are in the Asia Pacific region, some even in Australia.

2. Taking ownership of the problem

Actually, at a macro level, Australia is playing a decent part in eliminating modern slavery from the system.  We are the second country (after the UK) to have had a Modern Slavery Act passed in parliament.  The Act requires organisations of $100 million to report on their risk of modern slavery in their supply chain and supports smaller organisations to voluntarily report. To read the Act, click here.

One point raised during the conference, however, was an overreliance on the Government to hold all responsibility for responding to the issue – but what about our role as individuals or organisations?

To provide perspective, we heard an account from one organisation who were very publicly vilified after slavery was found in their supply chain.  They used the crisis to overhaul their systems and set an example for and promote what good practice looks like.

Another organisation that spoke, Elevate, works with companies to assess the risk of modern slavery in their supply chain and implement solutions to remove it.  In Elevate’s own words it has to go beyond compliance to integration.

Our CEO, Anthea, provided a proactive and innovative solution: creating an ethical supply chain through shared value. Using the YuMi Tourism Program as an example, Carnival Australia has built a more inclusive and equitable supply chain, which provides access and any required training for Indigenous tour operators to fairly be procured at Carnival’s destination ports in the South Pacific. Like Elevate’s motto, shared value projects are a truly integrated solution which ultimately looks to create cultural change at a large scale.

3. Taking the first step and leading with courage

So once you’ve identified the problem, and you can see a solution, how do you go about creating the change?  At the conference, this was again addressed at an individual and organisational level.

One of the workshops at the conference was about how to be a champion for change within your organisation. Modern slavery is a confronting (and shameful) subject that is hard and costly to solve.  It takes the courage and persistence from an internal champion to lead change. This comes back to point one and two – identifying and owning our part in the problem.  One anecdote that really drove this home was a quote from a victim of modern slavery. She said “they [criminals who create slavery conditions] are just bad people doing bad things, but where are the good people doing good things?”.

It also takes courage for an organisation to be the externally-facing champion for change.  From the perspective of the organisation who had experienced the crisis around slavery in their supply chain, courage was key to turning the situation around.  To borrow from Brene Brown, they had to continually enter the arena against scepticism of the public, media and activists until they had built a track record that proved otherwise.

Doing your bit:

For organisations

Remain grounded in courage by returning to your purpose and values, thinking long term, and by supporting each other as a leadership team – you’re all going through the change together.

  • Who are our suppliers and partners?  And who are their suppliers and partners?
  • Are we going above and beyond the minimum requirements of the MSA?  
  • Is there opportunity to create proactive and innovative solutions in our supply chain?

For individuals

It can feel overwhelming for individuals because supply chains are a step removed, and often not transparent.  Good on You, the Shop Ethical! app, or the Ethical Fashion guide have done the hard work to help consumers identify whether their favourite brands are ethical or not.

As an employee, you can ask: what parts of the system do I have control over, and how can I make ethical choices to lead by example?  Who can I bring along and who are my champions? A useful tool is this shared value mapping tool from Planet B Insights.

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