How to Address Modern Slavery in your Organisation

michaela young

Michaela Young

Principal Consultant


Global estimates of modern slavery released this week have risen to 50 million, meaning nearly one in every 150 people in the world are in some form of forced labor or forced marriage. This is according to the latest report on Modern Slavery from the International Labor Organization, U.N.’s International Organization for Migration and the foundation. These disturbing figures show 10 million more people are in modern slavery in 2021 compared to 2017 global estimates, and vividly demonstrates how far we have to go to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of ending modern slavery universally by 2030.

Modern slavery is a global issue, no region is untouched by modern slavery practices. Forced labour is a concern regardless of a country’s wealth and it touches virtually all parts of the private economy.

As a global community we must engage and confront the reality that modern slavery is unacceptable and come together to address this issue. While governments need to lead the charge, other sections of society need to also take accountability in shifting this trajectory. Modern slavery practices must be brought out of the darkness and into the light so they can be acknowledged, addressed, and eradicated.

The Global Slavery Index estimated 15,000 people lived in conditions of modern slavery in Australia in 2018 and this number is likely to have increased over the last four years. Global supply chains link Australia to modern slavery occurring all over the globe and we have a moral (and legal) obligation to take decisive action.

Australian businesses, both those who report to the modern slavery Act and those who don’t, need to make it business-as-usual to scrutinise their supply chains no matter how complex. They need to recognise and address their risks and their boards should be held accountable to ensure this is done.

Yes addressing modern slavery in an organisation can be complex, but it can be done and the time to start is now.

Modern slavery expert Michaela Young touches on four things you should do now to embark on a pathway to address modern slavery in your business.

Four things you should do now to address modern slavery in your business

1. Create buy-in internally

Building strong and effective systems to mitigate the risks of modern slavery takes time and resources. Progress will be hard if internal support, especially from Executives and Management Teams is lacking. Ensuring that key decision-makers in an organisation, and those in functions that enable (or block) response action, are on board is absolutely vital. In our experience, this step often requires information sessions and candid debate about the reality of the true exposure of an organisation to modern slavery. It can be helpful for those sessions to be supported by a credible outside voice, rather than internally-led, where perceived bias to proceed one way or another, could obscure the message.

2. Understand where and how risks arise

Creating a picture of the areas in which your organisation may face exposure to modern slavery will enable action where it is most meaningful and help direct scarce resources. For smaller organisations, building this picture might entail simply mapping out risk areas. For larger organisations with complex and long supply chains, a more formal and systematised risk assessment will be appropriate. Guidance on how we approach risk assessment.

3. Take targeted action

Once your organisation understands where risks of modern slavery arise, action can be taken. Again, with resource constraints in mind, our approach is to support clients in identifying areas where risk might be most severe and to start there. Actions could include engaging with suppliers to understand if risks identified are real. They could also entail assurance actions such as site visits, audits and the like.

4. Build a longer-term vision, strategy and systems

Alongside these targeted actions, we also recommend organisations build a vision of their human rights performance. Much like a business adopts a vision statement and supporting strategy, it is helpful to conceptualise how the protection of human rights feeds into that vision and strategy. For larger entities, this may include revisiting risk appetite statements and categories; for SMEs it may simply be an internal guiding statement. Key is that this statement is meaningful, to guide the development of a longer-term strategy.

This vision, should then create the internal drive and commitment to develop the kinds of systems that will enable systematic response, rather than only ad hoc targeted actions. Some of the system’s organisations should think about creating or overhauling include: procurement systems; contract management systems; grievance and remediation systems, amongst many others.

We have a team of human rights experts passionate about supporting organisations on their counter-modern slavery journeys. If you would like to learn more about our human rights services, get support with any of the above steps, or understand how we can help you address modern slavery in your business reach out to our team.