SYDNEY, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Australian companies are “significantly exposed” to modern slavery in their supply chains, with sectors ranging from finance and mining to healthcare most at risk, an influential group representing some of the country’s biggest investors said.
Australia last month became only the second country in the world to bring in an anti-slavery law, requiring large companies to report on modern slavery risks in their supply chains.
The Australian Council for Superannuation Investors (ACSI), which advises pension funds on how to vote at shareholder meetings, said their reliance on imported goods meant Australian companies were particularly exposed to such risks.
In a report published on Thursday, it called on investors to apply pressure on companies to ensure meaningful reporting, saying slavery threatened shareholder value in addition to its devastating human impact.
“From a company perspective and from an investor perspective, slavery in supply chains open companies up to significant reputational risk,” said ACSI Chief Executive Louise Davidson.
“That can have a significant financial impact on their business as well.”
More than 40 million people globally are living and working in slave-like conditions, according to joint research by the International Labour Organization and the Walk Free Foundation.
The 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates that 15,000 of these people are in Australia.
“We know that there is a domestic slavery issue,” Jenn Morris, chief executive of Australia-based anti-slavery group Walk Free Foundation, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The other issue is the level of at-risk products that Australia imports and we know that (they) are produced across a range of countries in the Asia Pacific which are at high risk of being produced by people under labour exploitation.”
The report focused on five sectors that it identified as being at highest risk of exposure to modern slavery in their supply chains, excluding the fashion industry.
These were financial services; mining; construction and property; food, beverages and agriculture, and healthcare.
Australia’s Modern Slavery Act came into effect on Jan. 1 and requires companies with a turnover of more than A$100million or more to publish annual statements outlining the risk of slavery in their supply chain and their efforts to combat this.
Compared to Britain, Australia's legislation is stricter on the information companies must provide, establishes a central database of their annual statements, and compels public bodies to also publish their anti-slavery efforts. (Reporting by Adeshola Ore, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)