Businesses with ties to the Xinjiang province in China find themselves at a junction.
Caught in debates concerning Uyghur people being the victim of modern slavery and genocide, they must deal with concerns expressed by Western governments and human rights groups, and an increasingly agitated Chinese Communist Party.
Some commentators have suggested that foreign companies that (in)directly profit from the systematic exploitation of Uyghurs in China must choose between profit and principle.
It seems like a straightforward question: do companies want to profit from the state-organised repression, exploitation and extermination of an ethnic minority, or do companies condemn the treatment of Uyghur people in China and deal with the backlash?
The conundrum underlying the question is as old as capitalism itself: what social costs are we willing to accept in order for companies to make a profit?
Continue reading Why do Companies Find it so Hard to Choose Between Profit and Principle?
The Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020 is currently under consideration by the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee and a report is due by 12 May 2021.
Professor Justine Nolan and Dr Martijn Boersma have made a submission arguing that the Australian Government should:
- Expand the proposed Bill to prohibit the importation of all goods produced or manufactured using forced labour (regardless of their geographical origin).
- Consider the ability to impose fines on importers and end-buyers who import prohibit good and apply such fines for the provision of institutional support for survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.
- Ratify ILO Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (PO29) to ensure the development of holistic legislative framework that will sit alongside the Modern Slavery Act, and a new law that bans the importation of goods produced or manufactured using forced labour.
- Consider publicly disclosing which goods are prohibited from importation, as well as associated importers, manufacturers and geographical locations.
When the UK Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2015 and its Australian counterpart followed three years later, these pieces of legislation were heralded as ground-breaking.
Both Acts require entities that meet the annual revenue threshold to report on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, what actions they have taken to address those risks, and what the outcomes of those efforts have been.
Crucially, the Modern Slavery Act in each country lacks hard sanctions for non-compliance and solely relies on stakeholder scrutiny and market forces for enforcement.
The UK Home Office states that “failure to comply […] may damage the reputation of the business. It will be for consumers, investors and Non-Governmental Organisations to engage and/or apply pressure where they believe a business has not taken sufficient steps”.
In Australia, Home Affairs states that non-compliance can “damage your entity’s reputation, undermine your ability to do business with other entities and damage investor confidence.”
While Australian entities are yet to report, reporting in the UK has been underwhelming. In 2017, 43 per cent of companies on the London Stock Exchange did not produce a report, nor did 42 per cent of the top 100 companies that were awarded government contracts.
It appears that many businesses in the UK had no fear of a consumer backlash for being non-compliant with the Act, even if that consumer was the government itself.
The vague threat of reputational risk thus seems insufficient to prompt action. This is corroborated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, who commented that “soft law’ frameworks have […] had a limited effect in ensuring corporate and state accountability”.
Continue reading Business & Human Rights: The Days of Toothless Laws Are Coming to an End
Following the United Kingdom in 2015, Australia introduced its Modern Slavery Act in 2018. The Government produced guidance documents to recognise that modern slavery sits on a continuum of exploitation and should not be addressed in isolation. It acknowledges that there is a spectrum of abuse and that it is not always clear at what point poor working practices and lack of health and safety awareness seep into instances of human trafficking, slavery or forced labour. The overarching aim of this special issue is to examine how exactly employment relationships can deteriorate into forms of labour exploitation and modern slavery. We set out to identify the key factors contributing to this process, to determine what approaches can reduce the risk of labour abuses occurring, and to discern novel ways to remediate exploitation once identified. We aim to create a better understanding of modern slavery and the employment relationship by establishing how and why workers may move along the continuum of labour exploitation.
- 25/09/2020 – Submission of abstracts to the guest editors
- 12/10/2020 – Confirmation/acceptance of abstract and invitation to submit full paper
- 31/01/ 2021 – Full paper submission for presentation at Symposium
- 02/2021 – Symposium in Sydney – alternatively a virtual symposium will be held
- 01/03/2021 – Full original papers to be submitted online to the JIR for peer review
- 28/10/2021 – Accepted papers to be finalised/submitted online to the JIR
Modern Slavery Special Issue
Modern slavery has gained attention in scholarship, legislation and media in recent years – and rightly so. As Nolan and Boersma discuss, the term ‘modern slavery’ is not unproblematic but is now commonly used to refer to several practices, including forced labour, bonded labour, trafficking, child slavery and forced marriage (pp. 7–8). The book is extremely timely and of particular interest in Australia since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act (Cth) 2018. This Act requires large businesses and the Commonwealth government to report on risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains (including overseas) and steps they are taking to address them. The first reports under the Act are due in 2020.
Continue reading Review of “Addressing Modern Slavery” in Journal of Industrial Relations
Addressing Modern Slavery provides important insights into the complexities that perpetuate slavery in a contemporary context, long after it was officially abolished. This book confronts the dark side of development that comes with intractable, complex, multi-tiered global supply chains. In particular, it highlights that global supply chains not only link us to modern slavery, but frequently generate the preconditions necessary for modern slavery to flourish in industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and mining, which account for the majority of slaves in the world. Governments can also be complicit: while modern slavery can be connected to companies and consumers through supply chains, there are also governments that actively promote and benefit from slave labour.
Continue reading Melbourne Asia Review on Addressing Modern Slavery
The Australian Government is developing a National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020‑24, which builds on Australia’s current efforts under the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015-2019. The Government published a Consultation Paper and provided the business community, civil society and academia to help co-design a 2020-24 Plan that will drive Australia’s efforts to combat modern slavery over the next five years. The submission by Justine Nolan and myself can be found below.
Our key recommendations:
- The Government should bolster the Modern Slavery Act by introducing sanctions for non-compliance, mandate and provide guidance on human rights due diligence and by creating the post of National Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner;
- The Government should “name and shame” entities that do not comply with the Modern Slavery Act, as well as entities that are found to have modern slavery in their supply chain;
- The Government should update its procurement policies to follow international best-practice, and provide additional training to procurement officers;
- The Government should leverage the impact of public spending by creating a procurement connected policy concerning modern slavery;
- The Government should prepare for an increase in modern slavery survivors being referred to authorities by creating adequate support structures based on international best practice;
- The Government should include two additional goals which focus on the nexus between climate change and gender with modern slavery.
- The Government should facilitate the creation of decent jobs, address wage theft, remove barriers for organised labour, and increase resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman;
- The Government should create an anti-slavery helpline and geographically plot calls to reveal hotspots across Australia.
Martijn Boersma and Justine Nolan - Submission National Action Plan
“Does our globalised economy rely on the exploitation of the vulnerable? Are we, as consumers, an intrinsic part of chains of supply and complicity that keep 40 million people enslaved? Justine Nolan and Martijn Boersma wrote Addressing Modern Slavery to define and dissect a phenomenon we think of as remote but is more prevalent than at any time in human history. Based on years of forensic research, this impressive book is mandatory reading for anyone committed to ending exploitation and the scourge of modern slavery.”
Justine Nolan and myself will be at the Adelaide Writers’ Week on Saturday 29 February, appearing at the West Stage at 12pm. The full program can be found below.