Is your Board doing enough to combat modern slavery?

By Fiona David, Chair of Research for the Minderoo Foundation

Having led labour audits in the Middle East and Australia, my advice to company directors on modern slavery is pretty simple: Look and you will find.


With an estimated 40 million people in modern slavery, the chances of you personally, or your organisation, inadvertently buying goods or services that are the product or result of modern slavery are high.

What is modern slavery?

Legally, we are talking about a set of concepts including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, and human trafficking. But at its heart, modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

In my work, I’ve encountered construction workers who have had their passports confiscated for “safe keeping”, while their labour brokers charge them exorbitant interest. I’ve been involved in supporting women who have been assaulted by the same employer who controls their passport and path to permanent residency

Globally, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to modern slavery, with research confirming they account for 71 per cent of all victims.

If you are a Director of a company with a consolidated revenue of more than $100 million, you are today legally required to submit a modern slavery statement. Far from being a compliance exercise, this is an opportunity for Directors to ensure the organisations they steward are not inadvertently propping up criminal industries.

If you are new to considering how modern slavery could be relevant to you, a great place to start is the Walk Free Foundation toolkit, which is designed to help businesses and investors take action to improve human rights standards in their supply chains, and combat modern slavery.  

To find examples of how other companies are responding to modern slavery risk, you can quickly search what more than 2000 organisations have done in this regard, simply by checking out the Government register of modern slavery statements. Some great ones to start with include WoolworthsFortescue Metals Group, Wesfarmers, and Westpac, recently assessed to be leading the pack by Monash University research.

My hope is these resources will start you down a path, where explicitly considering modern slavery risk becomes less about compliance and more about value creation – both for your customers and suppliers, but also for those 40 million people in modern slavery, who may be affected by your decisions.

Listen to Claire Braund's podcast with Fiona David HERE
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