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Addressing modern slavery ‘the right thing to do’
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Addressing modern slavery ‘the right thing to do’

Large companies can no longer turn a blind eye to the risk of modern slavery, with human rights increasingly becoming business as usual, a human rights consultant has said.

Human rights lawyer and youth adviser for the United Nations Philip Chan was in conversation with Lawyers Weekly when he said the recent passing of the Modern Slavery Act will “build momentum for the corporate respect for human rights and towards embedding human rights into Australian companies.”

Mr Chan called the act “an opportunity for corporations to manage their reputational and financial risks around modern slavery and human rights, and to improve public trust in their company.”

The passing of the federal Modern Slavery Act “is a historic moment in Australia,” Mr Chan said, being “the first legislation of its kind nationally to require transparent reporting on modern slavery in corporate operations and supply chains.”

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“Addressing modern slavery is the right thing to do,” he said, noting that “employees are increasingly demanding that their employer consider the human rights impacts of the business for which they work for.”

Affecting approximately 3,000 of Australia’s largest corporations, Mr Chan said “the act is already changing the conversation taking place in corporate Australia.”

The Modern Slavery Act requires “companies with at least $100 million in annual consolidated revenue to annually publish a public modern slavery statement,” he explained.

“Accountability will rest at the highest level and Boards will need to increasingly recognise modern slavery as a key business risk,” with companies “having to publicly disclose modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains, both in Australia and overseas,” Mr Chan said.

It is part of a global trend, where “consumers, regulators, investors, shareholders and employees are increasingly expecting and demanding better corporate reporting on human rights,” he explained, “with similar legislation enacted in the UK, France, the Netherlands and California.”

Noting the “already changing” conversation taking place in corporate Australia, Mr Chan said that “accountability will rest at the highest level and boards will need to increasingly recognise modern slavery as a key business risk.”

The act requires companies to report on the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains, the lawyer explained, “with an expectation that this will be beyond first-tier suppliers.”

“The act will be far-reaching into suppliers and other companies not captured by the act, creating a flow-on effect in changing corporate practices in managing human rights risks and impacts,” as a result, Mr Chan concluded.

 

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