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.
Catalyst Australia researcher Martijn Boersma speaks to 2SER host Annamarie Reyes about exploitation in supply chains and what legislative measures the Australian Government must take. This includes ensuring that public procurement is ethical and making it obligatory for companies to disclose steps taken to combat exploitation in supply chains.
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.
A recent report by Amnesty International details evidence of the systematic exploitation of migrant workers building facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The amount of workers is expected to grow ten-fold to around 36,000 in the coming two years. An earlier report by the International Trade Union Confederation says 1,200 migrant workers from India and Nepal have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the 2022 World Cup, and it estimates that 4,000 migrant workers will die by the time the first game is played in 2022. The Qatar 2022 organising committee has appointed Impactt to provide oversight and monitor workers’ rights on the back of a damning report by Amnesty International. Catalyst Australia researcher @martijnboersma spoke to @TraceyLeeHolmes on @ABC_NewsRadio about labour standards in Qatar #wc2022
“Empowerment of the world’s women is a global imperative,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the 2016 World Economic Forum. Although the worldwide trend to promote equal opportunities has also impacted Australia, progress in the corporate world is slow and a change in pace is required. Improving disclosures is a good place to start.
In 2010, the ASX Corporate Governance Council made several amendments to its Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations. The most prominent change was that companies should publicly disclose the number of female directors, senior managers and total number of women in the workforce, as well as progress against diversity objectives established by the board.
New research by Catalyst Australia finds that ASX50 listed companies – Australia’s largest companies and industry leaders – tick all the gender reporting boxes. But while some progress is made concerning women on boards, facilitating the career advancement of women into executive positions remains a problem area.
Likewise, while ASX50 companies do refer to pay equity, our research finds their disclosures are limited and often do not include figures for management or the workforce.
Why are boards standing by and watching as the companies they govern take our environment to hell in a handbasket? The banks are a case in point, as researcher Martijn Boersma from Catalyst Australia, recently wrote: “While banks frequently mention risk assessments, they nevertheless continue to finance unsustainable activities.” Since 2008, banks collectively have invested tens of billions into the carbon-rich fossil fuel sector, but do not include these details in their CSR reports.
The GFC has shown that unsustainable banking activities can bring the economic system to the brink of collapse. A new report by Catalyst Australia examines to what degree banks can also cause or alternatively mitigate social and environmental harm, and what are the resulting responsibilities towards the community and the environment?
Australian companies will soon be publishing financial results, as well as information about sustainability efforts. Corporate social responsibility of the big four banks – Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac is a continuing topic of debate following recent scandals and reports of unsustainable activities. Yet according to ANZ chairman, David Gonski, Australians ought to “stop bashing the banks” for being large and profitable. This comment should put civil society on guard.