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29 Jun 2023

Strengthening modern slavery responses: Good practice toolkit for Australian companies


Based on several years of collaborative research, this Good Practice Toolkit provides guidance for businesses on core aspects of human rights due diligence and how to strengthen their responses to the Australian Modern Slavery Act (MSA).

Drawing on our findings on how companies are responding to the MSA and conducting human rights due diligence, we identified two areas of business practice that are notably weak:

Engagement with stakeholders

Engagement with suppliers

The toolkit provides guidance on how to approach these areas as part of a broader human rights due diligence process and highlights good practice examples from both reporting entities and other businesses.

Key recommendations

Stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement is a crucial element of human rights due diligence. Such engagement should be used to amplify the voices of affected stakeholders and needs to be sustained throughout various stages of the due diligence process. Our toolkit suggests business should:

Conduct meaningful and sustained engagement with workers and their representatives: This is frequently not being conducted, and when it is, it is often from the perspective of minimising risk to the company rather than to the workers. Companies are also failing to engage stakeholders beyond one-off instances. To ensure meaningful engagement, companies should identify local unions, worker organisations and CSOs connected to the workplace, seek opportunities to establish collaborative relationships with workers, and be open to implementing different forms of collaboration and engagement. To ensure sustained engagement, companies should schedule regular consultations with worker organisations, participate in collective agreements with unions to address workplace abuses and support capacity building of relevant stakeholders.

Engage with relevant stakeholders in the design of policies: Our research shows that fewer than 20% of modern slavery statements reviewed mention stakeholder engagement in the design of policies. We recommend companies ensure relevant stakeholders are involved in the design of policies, account for and address how their own practices potentially exacerbate risks of modern slavery and emphasise empowerment of workers to report modern slavery. Additionally, we recommend participation in credible multi-stakeholder schemes. Such schemes should include representation from workers and affected communities. Engagement in such schemes will help facilitate long term prevention and systemic change.

Use effective grievance mechanisms as an engagement tool: While company-led grievance mechanisms are not a substitute for worker empowerment, they can support the identification of grievances and facilitate remediation. We recommend companies involve workers and their representatives in the design of grievance mechanisms, identify any barriers to accessing grievance mechanisms, and ensure transparency in the reporting of grievances and responses. Additionally, we list a range of digital technologies that are available to detect and address modern slavery, as well as empower workers to report instances.

Supplier engagement

Supplier engagement is key to facilitating the ‘race to the top’ that the MSA has thus far failed to accomplish. Modern slavery often occurs in lower tiers of a supply chain including in informally subcontracted suppliers, but supplier engagement is often ‘top-down’ and lacking in collaboration. The toolkit suggests business should:

Prioritise suppliers with demonstrated respect for human rights: Our previous research shows only 26% of companies undertake human rights due diligence on new suppliers as part of their selection process. Businesses should give priority in the tendering process to suppliers have a proven respect for human rights and are capable of supplying robust evidence of such.

Work in partnership with suppliers in designing and communicating expectations: Evidence suggests that policies outlining expectations of suppliers are not being communicated effectively. Businesses should ensure suppliers are involved in the design of their policies, conduct supplier training on human rights due diligence, and work with industry peers and other organisations to develop more efficient supplier platforms to provide transparent information.

Demonstrate sustained engagement with suppliers: Companies should not only train suppliers but also support in other ways. This includes avoiding immediately terminating relationships when labour abuses are suspected/detected, rewarding practices that demonstrate respect for human rights and encouraging information sharing.

Authors: Professor Justine Nolan, Professor Shelley Marshall, Amy Sinclair, Freya Dinshaw, Associate Professor Vikram Bhakoo, Associate Professor Martijn Boersma, Sarah Knop, and Associate Professor Fiona McGaughey.

Project coordinator: Samuel Pryde

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