The concept of slavery may not touch many Australian lives directly on a day to day basis. But as one of the world’s largest economies, Australian businesses and investors are at risk of engaging with modern slavery through systemic discriminatory practices. While there is no global definition of the term, there are noteworthy practices attributed as modern slavery outlined within the Modern Slavery Act (2018). Forces such as poverty, economic shocks, gender inequality, exploitative business practices, weak governance and regulatory inadequacy in other countries, have embedded modern slavery in the global economy.
Modern slavery describes situations where offenders use coercion, threats or deception to exploit victims and undermine their freedom. Practices that constitute modern slavery can include human trafficking, slavery, servitude, forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and the worst forms of child labour.
Modern Slavery Statement in review
A 12-month review of the Modern Slavery Act has resulted in thirty recommendations for change to strengthen the act’s results and effectiveness. Some upcoming changes to be aware of include:
- The Modern Slavery Act is to be amended to define a reporting entity as an entity that has a consolidated revenue of at least $50 million for the reporting period (down from $100 million). This means that more businesses may be required to equip themselves with a team to undertake this task. Lowering the threshold will bring our standards closer in line with other businesses around the world, where voluntary reporting is at a higher rate. It’s telling of the shift in demand for greater transparency and desire for action.
- The introduction of a ‘due diligence’ or penalty system for businesses that don’t submit a report or submit reports with false or misleading information.
Unfortunately, at this stage it is unrealistic to expect that businesses are completely free from modern slavery risk. The introduction of penalties will be based on compliance in statement submissions, with hopes to ensure data is transparent and clear, so that adequate action can be taken based on report findings. This cycle of change is what the Modern Slavery Act aims for.
- A federal Anti-Slavery Commissioner has been established in NSW, based on the recommendations of the report. The Anti-Slavery Commissioner is expected to play a crucial role in raising awareness of modern slavery risks in Australia. The strong support from businesses expresses a shared desire to identify and address specific risks, highlighting the need for the Commissioner to promptly prepare a strategic plan outlining key objectives and priorities.
There is greater demand for transparency than ever before. Shareholders are relying on data from Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting to understand their involvement in risky practices that lead to legal, compliance, brand reputation and financial risks.
Reporting can feel like a burden if it is treated as compliance. But it starts conversations that thread a connection between financial outcomes and the humans touched by your organisation. People predict the Modern Slavery Act will help organisations to identify hidden risky practices, and to be transparent about areas for improvement. The increase in ethical investment opportunities and pledge-based divestment programs represent tools of the modern activist, who understands the power of their hippocket – through boycotting and divestment – are practical levers to action their social values. It is simple to conclude that by reducing the money made off the back of inhumane practices, the lower the risk to financial investments and returns.
So how can Australian businesses use transparency to create lasting change that investors can trust in?
Our deep understanding and experience in crafting reports with impact, coupled with our recent attendance at the Global Compact Australia’s Sustainability Reporting sessions places us in a unique position to share our perspective on what matters most. For the corporate sector to bring to life a Modern Slavery Statement that aspires to a global benchmark, strengthening the trust of investors looking to better understand their investment risk. Here’s what we’ve found:
Strategic framing now, for future success
Strategic framing involves a nuanced understanding of how an organisation’s activities intersect with human rights and a commitment to align with global best practices and ESG standards.
- Materiality and salience at the core: This process involves determining which human rights issues are most pertinent and impactful for your organisation. It’s about discerning what matters most in your operations and supply chains, and how these factors interplay with broader social concerns. By prioritising these issues, your Modern Slavery Statement transcends mere compliance, reflecting a deeper engagement with the nuances of your business’s global footprint.
- A future-focused framework: By measuring and mapping their current impact, organisations can lay down a robust framework that complies with today’s standards and is flexible enough to adapt to future developments and innovations. This proactive approach positions businesses to respond to evolving regulations and standards, leading the way to responsible corporate citizenship.
- Global alignment for credibility and relevance: Aligning your strategic framework with globally accepted ESG standards is paramount. This alignment enhances your report’s credibility and ensures its relevance in the international arena. It demonstrates a commitment to global best practices and positions your organisation as a leader in the fight against modern slavery.
- The power of narrative and visualisation:. A compelling narrative weaves together data and statistics into a story that resonates with stakeholders, making the issues more relatable and the impact more tangible. Effective visuals and infographics amplify this narrative, making complex information accessible and engaging.
Benchmarking for change
Modern Slavery Statements are relatively new in the Australian reporting landscape. Leveraging a global lens may work best for sourcing examples of quality reports that weave a tangible narrative and deliver on their promise through their framework and outcomes. Organisations like the World Benchmarking Alliance provide a tool for measuring and comparing corporate performance, and now have a Corporate Human Rights Benchmark data set that brings perspective to what businesses are doing to tackle these issues. Such data sets are relied upon and are even being demanded by investors, so using appropriate benchmarking and data can set your report apart and appease fears over breaches of human rights. The highest ranking reports are those that describe their process, outline what they consider to be salient or material human rights issues, how the conclusions were reached, and what they intend to do about it.
Simply put, the importance of narrative cannot be dismissed when it comes to Modern Slavery Statement.
Telling your story
While the task at hand is centred around amalgamating information in order to meet reporting requirements, it’s critical to not lose sight of the story statistical data can tell. We can use visualisation to amplify themes and note where we’ve delivered on our promise.
It’s important to ask:
- What is the story we are sharing through this data?
- How can infographics be used to better visualise this story?
- What changes have been made based on last year’s data and how can this be shared?
- How are the concepts of salience and materiality amplified through the supporting visuals?
- How are the success stories or pitfalls linked to other sustainability practices, and can bring this story together?
It’s one piece of the sustainability puzzle
While differing in approach, businesses’ adoption of climate conscious practices is connected to the fight for human rights – they both work to create a better quality of life for earth’s inhabitants. As communicators, it’s important to consider how all documents in your reporting suite work together.
Every business has, and can create, social, environmental and financial impact. Taking both a macro and micro lens to inform your description of climate change, gender equality and human rights issues signals to the broader community that sustainability is a serious issue to your business. Aiming for accuracy and attention to the granular details can give investors valuable insight.
“In reporting there is a saying: ‘what gets measured gets managed’, but not everything that matters can be measured.”
Dr Allinnettes Adigue, Director, GRI Network ASEAN
Take the time to get it right
The realities of modern slavery are complex, and deserving of a well-considered approach. We know the reporting space well, which positions us to partner with you through the intricacies of the Modern Slavery Act and gain greater alignment to global benchmarks. We want to elevate your reporting from a mere compliance task, to a powerful instrument for positive change.
Our approach prioritises thoughtful framing through a captivating narrative, and ensures that what is shared resonates with stakeholders, shareholders, and the broader community.
A few examples of reports with heart
We have many examples of reports on our website, from sustainability reports, modern slavery statements and annual reports – browse our website for an idea of what we can help your team achieve:
- Cleanaway modern slavery and sustainability report. Placing circularity and impact at the core of Australia’s leading waste management company’s sustainability reporting.
- ARENA annual report. Setting new standards in award-winning government agency reporting.
- ARBV annual reports. Signalling intent for Victoria’s model regulator of the built environment.
Talk to us about embarking on a strategic and creative approach to reporting and compliance that reflects your values, fosters trust, and contributes to positive change through more ethical and sustainable business practices.
Our multidisciplinary team can share what they know, how they work, and the passion they bring to every project.