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?

The reason to introduce an undergraduate compulsory subject on one slavery for all business students was really because there’s a different demand for business graduates going into the job market in 2023. I think that more and more businesses focus on graduates that have sort of a strong, ethical underpinning in what they do. Basically, being familiar or only being familiar with your general business acumen is no longer going to cut it. Obviously, we’ve seen many examples of ethical transgressions in the workplace, and obviously, sourcing goods and services from overseas or even domestically that might be tainted by modern slavery is one of these big issues that really come to the forefront in recent years.

Yeah, you teach, of course, at Notre Dame, a Catholic University. I mean, how does Catholic Social Teaching influenced this?

Catholic social teaching is very important in the underpinnings of all the programmes at Notre Dame. But I think specifically for the modern slavery component, there is a strong focus on social justice. So you know, we talked about how certain goods would come to Australia, we talk about how certain goods are produced sometimes and being able to be sold in Australia against, for example, very low price. We talk about why that is. And we talk about the fact that a number of instances, the affluence that we experience, the goods that we can procure, that we find on the shelves at the shops that we frequent, are actually built of the blood, sweat and tears and oftentimes the exploitation of people abroad that are actually living dramatically different lives to us. So we talked about that. We talked about fairness of those business models, and we talk about how that can be addressed. And therefore, I suppose the social justice approach and instilling a lot of those Catholic teachings, I think is very important as part of the programme.

You’ve taught in business schools elsewhere, what have business courses overlooked, traditionally, when constructing their degrees, because this question of modern slavery, we call it modern slavery, but tragically, it is they’re persistent. Throughout the centuries, what have these courses overlooked?

Generally, business schools have not focused on ethics to the degree that they’ve basically needed to so obviously, in the Australian business landscape, we’ve seen various examples of transgressions recently, whether it’s PwC, or a couple of years back, we had, obviously, the Royal Commission into misconduct in the financial industry. And while Australian universities have been really good at producing graduates that obviously have a general business acumen, and can obviously function really well in the workforce, the ethical dimension has been something that has been largely neglected. Now fortunately, there are a number of different business schools that are now making ethics, but also sustainability, Fair Work Practices, as well as a more core component of the programmes that they offer. But I would say that, you know, we’re making small steps and you know, in doing that, and I’m very happy that Notre Dame as part of the leading universities trying to instil ethics within the business curriculum so that the future graduates that we sent into the job markets won’t necessarily experienced the same pitfalls as their predecessors have.

Well, this is more than just ethics, though. This is an Australian first a unit, a compulsory unit focused strictly on modern slavery. What’s been the feedback though, from businesses so far?

That’s a very good question. When we have an open day at Notre Dame, or whenever I’m engaging with prospective students, you know, a question that I get from them is to say, well, is having a unit on one slavery compulsory unit? Is that something that I need going into the workforce and I always tell those students to go to one of the many different search engines that you can use to find jobs that are currently available in the job market in the workplace, and I encouraged him to type in the term modern slavery because you know, you get a lot of different jobs, oftentimes dozens of jobs in relation to procurement in relation to legal roles in relation into any other supply chain function, even HR, which requires knowledge about modern slavery, which requires knowledge specifically about complying with Australia’s modern slavery act. So there is basically currently a large knowledge gap in the market. And so it is a real one basically, for students who are equipped with knowledge about one slavery, what can be done to address it, but also ultimately how to comply with Australia’s modern slavery Act, which is obviously also a very important component of that as well.

Associate Professor Martijn Boersma, he is with the business school at Notre Dame university. Thanks for joining us on the religion and ethics report.

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