Many Australian companies are failing to prevent links to modern slavery – The Catholic Leader

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

The report found that many companies are failing to identify obvious risks of forced labour in their supply chains or take action to address them. 

Many Australian companies are failing to prevent links to modern slavery – The Catholic Leader

Modern slavery: More than 40 million people globally are estimated to live in modern slavery, with children thought to make up around a quarter of victims.

Modern slavery: More than 40 million people globally are estimated to live in modern slavery, with children thought to make up around a quarter of victims.

A coalition of human rights organisations, church groups and academics are demanding the federal government strengthen Australia’s modern slavery laws after releasing an investigative report into the issue.

The report found that many companies are failing to identify obvious risks of forced labour in their supply chains or take action to address them. 

Under scrutiny in the report conducted by the Human Rights Law Centre, assisted by the privately-run Catholic University of Notre Dame and RMIT University, are the disclosure statements of 102 companies sourcing from four sectors with known risks of modern slavery: garments from China, rubber gloves from Malaysia, seafood from Thailand and fresh produce from Australia.

Horticulture is one sector known to be at risk of modern slavery.

The Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2018 and now requires around 3,000 companies to review their supply chains and check if workers face human trafficking, servitude, forced labour, deceptive recruiting or other poor conditions.

The report found 77 per cent of companies reviewed had failed to comply with the basic reporting requirements mandated by the legislation and that 52 per cent had failed to identify obvious modern slavery risks in their operations or supply chains.

Only one in four garment companies sourcing from China, for instance, made any mention of the risk of Uyghur forced labour in their supply chains.

Just 27 per cent of companies appeared to be taking some form of effective action to address modern slavery risks. 

The lowest scoring companies included Lite & Easy, Drakes Supermarkets and Clifford Hallam Healthcare, while the highest included Woolworths, Coles and Kathmandu. 

“The Modern Slavery Act was meant to drive a ‘race to the top’ by business to address modern slavery in global supply chains, but our research indicates most companies have barely left the starting blocks,” senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre and report co-author, Freya Dinshaw said

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“Many companies have published modern slavery statements, but when you drill down into the detail, many aren’t even at the point of identifying the most obvious risk areas in their supply chains, let alone taking meaningful action to address them. 

“It is increasingly apparent that reporting alone is not going to be enough to drive fundamental change.

“When you speak to a glove worker in Malaysia forced to work around the clock to make PPE for the COVID crisis, or a migrant worker on an Australian farm working in terrible conditions, it brings home just how much more needs to be done.

The Catholic Church in Australia is now deeply involved in anti-slavery efforts across 40 large Church entities – nearly 75 per cent of Catholic activity – from education, health and aged care, finance & investment, social services and dioceses.

Action against modern slavery is a mandate of Catholic Social Teaching.

Pope Francis has described modern slavery and human trafficking as an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the Body of Christ, and a crime against humanity.

He emphasises that buying goods is not just a commercial matter. Our purchasing habits have deep moral dimensions.

Today, February 8, the Church celebrates the Feast Day of St Josephine Bakhita – the patron saint of victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. 

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