My latest research finds that effective approaches to child labour in global supply chains are characterised by companies engaging with a broad range of stakeholders, taking a contextual and holistic approach by considering local circumstances and broader human rights, and by focusing on prevention and remediation. By shifting from code of conduct and auditing based approaches towards stakeholder collaboration and due diligence, companies are moving away from reactive and paternalistic approaches to child labour and instead increasingly adopt proactive and pluralistic strategies. The influence of the UNGPs has the potential to ameliorate some the tensions in multi-stakeholder partnerships by requiring companies to be first movers and using this advantage to include stakeholders rather than exclude them in developing CSR strategies. While these developments can help to elevate child labourers from latent and discretionary stakeholders to expectant and dependent stakeholders, they continue to rely on CSOs to add weight to their claims.
Andrew Forrest has called on the Australian government to consider legislation similar to the UK Modern Slavery Act to ensure Australian companies are held responsible for exploitation in their supply chains.
The billionaire businessman and philanthropist said Australia had the opportunity to lead the response to an issue deeply ingrained in the Australia Pacific region, which accounts for about two-thirds of the 45 million people in modern slavery globally.
“Critically, Australia’s supply chains are largely through Asia,” Mr Forrest said. “In this sense we are very exposed, and likely to suffer significant political and economic impact if slavery is found to be connected with our corporations or our government in any way.
“Australia could be the first country in the region to enact comprehensive legislation that ensures corporations are held to account for modern slavery in their supply chains, similar to the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015.”
There are more people subjected to slavery-like practices today than at any time in history: almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour.
Due to complex and opaque supply chains, something you wear, eat or drink may very well have touched the hands of a person, even a child, working under duress and in hazardous conditions.
These human rights abuses are linked to Australian companies, investors, government and consumers through global supply chains: 60 per cent of trade in the real economy depends on the supply chains of 50 companies, which only employ 6 per cent of workers directly.
A total of 11.7 million victims of forced labour and 78 million child labourers are located in the Asia-Pacific region. Given the fact that seven countries in this region comprise Australia’s top 10 import sources, Australian companies and government have a responsibility to meet these human rights abuses head on.
Australian businesses have recently been implicated in serious labour abuses, both within and beyond Australia’s borders. A new paper by Catalyst Australia and The Australia Institute examines legislative developments aimed at tackling slavery and trafficking in other jurisdictions, and argues that Australia should learn from these measures in the face of urgent human rights issues with immediate impacts for Australian companies, government, investors and consumers.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan has been accused of “death by committee” after he failed to respond to a report of a working group he set up recommending laws to stop exploitation in company supply chains.
The group has now released its own report fearing its recommendations will be ignored.
Exploitation scandals have hit major Australian brands over the past year. In February, Rip Curl was forced to apologise after its clothing labelled “made in China” was found to be made in North Korean factories. The company blamed a subcontractor.