Public Procurement and Social Impact in New South Wales

Associate Professor Chris F. Wright and I presented evidence at the “Inquiry into the Procurement Practices of Government Agencies in New South Wales and its Impact on the Social Development of the People of New South Wales”.

Public procurement represents a substantial portion of the economy and provides a unique opportunity to drive significant social and economic benefits. The power of public procurement can – and indeed should be – harnessed to promote decent work, local employment, and sustainable development.

Our submission makes several key recommendations aimed at enhancing the social and economic impact of government procurement:

Establish Centralised Procurement Oversight: We propose the creation of a centralised authority dedicated to overseeing procurement across all government departments and agencies.

Lower Threshold for Contract Disclosure: To enhance transparency and public trust, we recommend lowering the disclosure threshold for government contracts from $150,000 to $10,000, similar to the Commonwealth level.

Prioritise Local Suppliers: We suggest the implementation of a local procurement policy which prioritizes local suppliers, fostering regional economic development.

Social Procurement Clauses: Introducing social procurement clauses to help ensure that businesses providing secure, well-compensated jobs are eligible for government contracts.

Supplier Debarment: To maintain high ethical standards, we recommend the introduction of a supplier debarment regime, to exclude suppliers found guilty of dishonest, unfair, or illegal conduct from government contracts.

Other Key Takeaways From the Hearing:

  • Current procurement oversight ineffective due to lack of expertise and transparency issues, enforcement of anti-slavery policies in supply chains inadequate due to lack of follow-up and operationalisation. Expertise and capability building needed for enforcing social dimensions of contracts.
  • Strengthening worker representation in procurement ensures fair labour practices. Worker representation mechanisms can improve employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity, with positive impacts on procurement outcomes.
  • Government procurement can play a crucial role in creating an effective skills ecosystem. In Switzerland, procurement policies that give preferential treatment to firms with training apprentices increase the number of firms offering training without compromising quality.
  • Unions can play a positive role, as evidenced by studies showing improved training quantity and quality in countries with strong union presence. Unions have positive impact on productivity, worker wellbeing, and social benefits.
  • Value for money in NSW procurement often interpreted as price alone, despite social and economic benefits being important factors.
  • New South Wales government should require contractors to demonstrate compliance with work health and safety regimes.

Public Hearing: Ethical Clothing Extended Responsibilities Scheme 2005 (NSW)

Associate Professor Chris F Wright and myself gave evidence to the Modern Slavery Committee, which is inquiring  into the Ethical Clothing Extended Responsibilities Scheme 2005 (NSW). The inquiry aims to evaluate the Scheme’s effectiveness in mitigating modern slavery risks in the New South Wales clothing manufacturing industry.

The terms of reference include examining the characteristics of the Textiles, Clothing, and Footwear (TCF) industry, such as industry size, employment numbers, worker demographics, lived experiences, supply chain complexities, modern slavery risks, participation in voluntary codes, and reporting patterns of exploitation. It also involves assessing the current application of the Scheme in New South Wales, its alignment with international standards like the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and OECD Due Diligence Guidance, and identifying necessary changes to better mitigate modern slavery risks in the TCF industry.

The inquiry will consider methods to promote compliance and enforce the Scheme, including utilizing the Anti-slavery Commissioner’s powers, and will investigate other industries, such as primary industries and construction, that have similar modern slavery risks due to their supply chains. Additionally, it will evaluate the potential benefits of extending the Scheme to other vulnerable industries.

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Revealed: Weak Remedy Under the Australian Modern Slavery Act

Effective remedy is a key element of human rights protection. The United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) stress the importance of both state and business entities providing access to effective remedies. Despite this, the effectiveness of remedial mechanisms varies, with remediation emerging as a shortfall in Australia’s efforts to meet international legal obligations and business standards. This research delves into the practical challenges and responses to remediation, leveraging insights from a detailed study on the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (MSA) in Australia. It draws on insights from a comprehensive, multi-year collaborative study to explore how businesses interpret and respond to the remedial requirements outlined in the MSA.

It tackles three pivotal inquiries concerning the provision of remedies:

  1. Whether companies are actively facilitating remediation or merely reporting such actions;
  2. The types of remedies most commonly reported; and
  3. The extent to which key stakeholders are involved in developing these remedies.

The findings, published in a Special Issue of the Journal of Modern Slavery, on “Access to Remedy for Survivors of All Forms of Slavery, Trafficking and Forced Labour” suggest that the Modern Slavery Act falls short in promoting effective remediation processes. It highlights a lack of significant engagement by businesses in remediation efforts under the MSA, indicating that the Act may not be effectively facilitating remediation processes.

Business and Human Rights Training for National Human Rights Institutions in Asia

The United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum for Asia-Pacific took place in Bangkok, Thailand from 5-9 June 2023. Together with Professor Justine Nolan from the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney and Ahmed Shahid from the Asia-Pacific Forum, I delivered a business and human rights training training over two sessions on 5-6 June 2023. It was designed as a collaborative and interactive program intended to foster knowledge by involving participants in discussions and practical exercises to enhance their ability to handle business and human rights issues.

You can read more reflections below the post. Photo credit: UNDP.

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Submission: Ethical Clothing Extended Responsibilities Scheme 2005 (NSW)

The Inquiry into the Ethical Clothing Extended Responsibilities Scheme 2005 (NSW), undertaken by the Modern Slavery Committee, is a comprehensive evaluation focused on the Scheme’s role in mitigating modern slavery within the clothing manufacturing sector of New South Wales (NSW). It delves into the textiles, clothing, and footwear (TCF) industry’s characteristics, examining aspects such as industry size, workforce demographics, supply chain complexities, and the prevalence of modern slavery. Additionally, the inquiry reviews the Scheme’s current application, its alignment with international human rights standards, and the need for any modifications to enhance its effectiveness. It also explores the Scheme’s enforceability, including methods to promote compliance, and considers extending the Scheme to other industries vulnerable to modern slavery due to their supply chain characteristics. This investigation is crucial for identifying strategies to combat modern slavery, ensuring that the TCF industry, and potentially other sectors, operate in line with global human rights commitments and provide better protection for workers in NSW.

My co-authored submission offers several recommendations to enhance the Ethical Clothing Extended Responsibilities Scheme to mitigate modern slavery within the clothing manufacturing sector NSW:

  1. Promote Supply Chain Mapping: The scheme’s unique approach to examining the entire supply chain from retailer to outworker helps in identifying vulnerabilities and instances of modern slavery that may be overlooked by Commonwealth legislation. It’s suggested that state action is needed to mandate such mapping for smaller entities not covered at the Commonwealth level.
  2. Create a Supply Chain Database: The establishment of a comprehensive database to capture detailed supply chain information is recommended. This would aid various stakeholders, including the NSW Office of Industrial Relations, the Fair Work Ombudsman, and the NSW Anti-Slavery Commissioner, by providing them with readily accessible information.
  3. Articulate Collaboration between Government Agencies: The proposals for supply chain mapping and database creation are in line with the objectives of both NSW and Commonwealth governments to combat modern slavery. The recommendation emphasizes enhanced inter-agency collaboration, which can augment existing policy goals and lead to more effective oversight and action against modern slavery within supply chains.
  4. Explore Extension of the Scheme: The recommendation suggests that the scheme could serve as a model for other industries. By enhancing transparency, accountability, and worker protection, it could pave the way for similar oversight in industries that are at high risk of modern slavery and labor standards violations, especially those industries with many entities below the Modern Slavery Act (2018) reporting threshold.

Submission: Procurement Practices of NSW Government Agencies

The inquiry into the procurement practices of government agencies in New South Wales (NSW) focuses on examining how these practices impact the social development of its citizens. It seeks to assess the current state of procurement, including the value, policies, and adherence to the NSW Procurement Policy Framework. The effectiveness of existing procurement arrangements in ensuring value for money and compliance with regulations, particularly labour laws, is a key area of investigation. The inquiry also looks into the capacity of procurement officials to assess suppliers and ensure compliance throughout the procurement process. Opportunities for co-regulation and incentives to improve labour market governance and enforcement through procurement are considered to achieve both economic efficiency and social outcomes. Evaluation criteria for tenders, emphasizing local content, value for money, social and environmental considerations, innovation, and subcontracting arrangements, are scrutinized. The transparency and accountability of procurement practices, the government’s ability to prioritize local content, jobs, training opportunities, diversity, and inclusion, and support for local suppliers and small and medium enterprises  are also under review. Furthermore, the inquiry explores procurement best practices from other jurisdictions to encourage ethical conduct and promote social development, along with any other related matters. Through this comprehensive examination, the inquiry aims to identify ways in which procurement practices can be optimized to contribute positively to the social development of NSW residents.

My co-authored submission offers several recommendations to enhance the social impact of procurement practices:

  1. Establish Centralised Procurement Oversight: Create a central authority within the NSW government to ensure compliance with procurement guidelines and audit practices.
  2. Lower Threshold for Contract Disclosure: Reduce the disclosure threshold for government contracts to improve transparency and public trust.
  3. Prioritise Local Suppliers: Introduce policies that emphasize social returns on investment and support for local businesses.
  4. Social Procurement Clauses: Include social criteria in procurement decisions to promote job security, indigenous employment, compliance with health and safety laws, and worker representation.
  5. Supplier Debarment: Introduce mechanisms for managing suppliers based on their conduct, including watchlists and do-not-engage lists, to ensure ethical business practices.

Why Australia Needs an Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Last week, a 47-year-old Queensland man was charged with 46 offences, including torturing and enslaving deckhands on his fishing boats.

The accused allegedly intimidated and attacked his employees, and withheld food and water. He will appear in court next month.

Australia is estimated to have 41,000 people trapped in modern slavery. People can be subjected to modern slavery through coercion, deception and violence. This includes acts such as grooming, wage theft and restriction of movement.

In Australian and international law slavery is defined as:

the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.

Modern slavery is distinct from historical slavery in that people are no longer legally owned but are instead subjected to illegal control.

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New Books Network Podcast on “Addressing Modern Slavery”

Before you left your house this morning, chances are that you used products and consumed goods that were produced by modern slavery. From the coffee you drink, to the clothes and shoes that you wear, to the phone that you use, modern slavery is a pervasive global problem that encroaches into the daily lives of all of us.

In Addressing Modern Slavery, Professor Justine Nolan and Associate Professor Martijn Boersma provide a comprehensive and accessible account of the role of businesses, governments and consumers in the proliferation of modern slavery. They address both the gaps in protection of workers in the global supply chain, and what more can be done to protect the dignity and human rights who are denied the chance to earn a decent living. In today’s conversation, we spoke about the emergence of corporate social conscience, the work that laws can do, the role that civil society can play, and a need for better enforcement mechanisms which will adequately address modern slavery. This is a really important book about a global phenomenon that is unsustainable. A must read for businesses, governments and consumers.

Professor Justine Nolan is the Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute and a Professor in the Faculty of Law and Justice at UNSW Sydney. Her research focuses on the intersection of business and human rights, in particular, supply chain responsibility for human rights and modern slavery.

Dr. Martijn Boersma is an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame Australia and an Adjunct Fellow at the University of Technology Business School. His research focuses on the intersection of business and society, and includes areas such as labour standards in supply chains; corporate governance and social responsibility; gender diversity in corporate leadership; modern slavery; and employment and industrial relations.

Review of the NSW Modern Slavery Act 2018

On Monday 30 October I gave evidence to the Modern Slavery Committee of the NSW Legislative Council, regarding the review of the NSW Modern Slavery Act 2018. I spoke about the need for continued attention and resolve to ensure both fiscal and ethical responsibility in public spending. A transcript of the evidence can be found below.

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Teaching Students About Modern Slavery


In the world of trophy degrees the business degree is one of the shiniest and students usually learn about profit and loss tax and investment. But this is an Australian first Notre Dame University has introduced a compulsory unit for business students dealing with modern slavery, because 50 million people are trapped in forced or unpaid labour around the world. Associate Professor Martijn Boersma helped design the programme. Martijn welcome. So what was the impetus for this subject?

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