From investment by global multinationals to your daily cup of coffee, we can all take action to help wipe out modern slavery.
Laura Vidal, who has been helping communities and organisations take practical action on modern slavery for more than a decade, says simple changes start with awareness.
“For your everyday person, having awareness that modern slavery happens, not just in the products they purchase, but also in Australia is really important,” she says.
Ms Vidal, a criminology PhD candidate at Monash University, says we can all play a part in helping tackle modern slavery by educating ourselves about the supply chains of companies we buy from.
Information is readily available on a variety of apps and websites designed to help buyers make choices that don’t contribute to Modern Slavery, she says.
“Good On You is a really great app, which is focused on the fashion industry, and it rates brands around their impact on people, plants and animals. So if you download that when you're in the store, you can search the brand, and it will give you a rating as to how well that brand is performing on the issues that you care about.”
“I’d also jump on and check out the Fashion Revolution in Australia, and that's a really practical campaign around engaging with the fashion industry around ethical decision making.”
“The other thing I would say, is to check out organisations’ or brands’ sustainability and ethical procurement policies, and if they don't exist, ask the question of them and say ‘you know, I'm really interested in purchasing this product, but I want to know the answers to these questions’ and then make those decisions,” she says.
Ms Vidal cautions against boycotting products or brands based on supply chain issues. Boycotting can have unintended negative consequences for the very people it aims to protect.
“(This is) work that might be being undertaken, obviously in less than ideal conditions, but it is still work that people are engaged with. And when you take that away entirely, it actually makes the situation worse for them,” she says.
“So the alternative to that is actually proactively engaging in putting consumer pressure on the brand and company to do better and to provide better conditions for the people that are working and supplying goods to them. It will have a more positive and longer term impact on the workers as well as the brand and the consumers.”
Ms Vidal also has some practical advice for those who believe they are witnessing modern slavery in action. She says one example could be a staff member at a shop or service who discloses to a customer that they are being exploited.
In this situation, it’s critical to understand the indicators that point to modern slavery, and to ensure the person disclosing actually wants you to report their claim, she says.
“There is a difference between what is a bad job and what is actually slavery. And the difference is the freedom to leave,” says Ms Vidal.
“And so you need to be really tuned into what the actual indicators of that are and they’re things like being forced to work through violence or threats, or excessively long hours that you're not being paid for, or you can't freely leave your workplace.”
She says it’s vital that the person making a disclosure is comfortable for you to report.
“The last thing that we want to do is strip that person - who's already experiencing a reduction in their power - of their agency to make that choice about what’s next for them.”
Ms Vidal suggests contacting a specialist NGO for guidance and advice on what to do with the information.
“In my time supporting victims of trafficking and slavery in Australia, we did receive referrals to our service from people who had simply asked the question ‘Is this a good place to work?’ And the person felt safe enough to say, ‘Well, no, actually it isn't. This is what I'm experiencing and I need some help’,” she says.
She says specialist NGOs include the Salvation Army’s trafficking and slavery safe house, Anti Slavery Australia’s legal service and the Australian Red Cross. Information can also be referred to the Australian Federal Police, who lead the criminal justice response to trafficking and slavery.
“Naturally, if it's an imminent danger kind of situation, Triple zero and a follow up call to the AFP is really appropriate,” she says.
Business has a role to play
Kimberley Cole has been helping businesses manage the risk that is modern slavery for more than 20 years.
A Monash Economics graduate, Ms Cole is currently Global Head of Sales at Lynk Global after 30 years with Thompson Reuters where she instigated a serie of anti-slavery summits.
She says businesses are now recognising the presence of modern slavery in their supply chains as a reputational issue similar to that of environmental sustainability. It can be a risk to recruiting the best talent, along with the consumer risk, she says.
As a result, companies have started investing in directly assessing their supply chains and implementing sustainable and ethical procurement policies.
“I think the focus is certainly there now, with Australian companies and obviously more globally. And a lot of that comes down, of course, to regulation and that's when regulation can be a benefit,” she says.
“The UK introduced their Modern Slavery Act in 2015 and Australia introduced their own Modern Slavery Act in December 2018 and so now the fact that a requirement is there obviously means companies have to take more notice. So I think that was a huge achievement, especially for Australia, to implement that Modern Slavery Act.”
Ms Cole also has some advice for individuals.
“I think as employees, especially if you're in a high risk industry, where you know that there is difficulty in supply chains, I think you can speak up and add pressure and, in many cases, maybe that is to be a whistleblower,” she says.
For investors, it might be considering where they put their money, while others could use any skills they have to get involved in the issue.
“Increasingly, people are looking at much more environmental, social and governance issues around where they will place their investment dollars and I think that's a very good way to start.
“If you're a lawyer, you can get involved and use the law and the regulations. If you're a journalist, you can write about it.”
Both experts agree there is plenty of action we can all take, and much hope for the future.
For Ms Vidal, awareness and understanding are key.
“Having some handy tips on an app, in your phone, in your notes about what you do - if there's something you're worried about - and acting on it could change somebody’s life. So I think it's really important conversation to have.”
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