The legal and practical side of modern slavery: Zoic and Bartier Perry joint seminar

The NSW Government might still question the need of the NSW Modern Slavery Act, but in the Australian business and human rights community there is a growing momentum for articulating the relationship between business’ supply chains and operations, and their embedded negative human rights impacts. And while there is a rising number of guidelines and human rights due diligence tools, there is still a gap between their applicability to address the legal requirements, and the assurance these tools provide to eliminate modern slavery in a company’s supply chain.

As a response to these concerns, Zoic and Bartier Perry joined forces to present a seminar on 14 November 2019. This presentation was born out of a recognition that businesses are increasingly seeking to comply with the Modern Slavery Act (MSA) and responsible sourcing principles, while trying to avoid duplication in efforts with the use of overlapping approaches.

Jason Sprague (Bartier Perry) focused on the legal face of the Commonwealth MSA and its compliance, the requirements and strategies for fulfilling them, as well as its impacts and consequences for breaching the Act.

Carsten Primdal (Zoic) shared his experience in China and Asia to explain how to understand, measure and report on what happens in the supply chain, as well as when traditional human rights due diligence might be insufficient. He used anecdotes and short video clips from factories in Asia to highlight his key points and provided practicals tips to improve compliance of supply chains with human rights principles.

These two narratives noted that for doing business with integrity, businesses need to tackle gaps in their operating methods and set up accurate changes optimise their social footprint. These changes must address the critical modern slavery risks and social issues both direct and indirect, and both upstream and downstream of their operations. The extent of actions to address modern slavery risks in a company vary according to where the company is [in the modern slavery “journey”]; some might start with policies, codes and contracts, others focus on developing their remediation approach, others intensify the role of audits in their supply chain. Regardless of the actions taken, businesses must consider how any changes are embedded into their processes, how internal and external stakeholders actually understand them and how they integrate these changes into their human rights due diligence.

As 2019 comes to an end, the MSA has reminded us that businesses face strategic but critical challenges: the changing expectations from society of business’ role beyond profit, and the need for businesses to craft a strategy that responds to the impacts of their operations which is quickly reshaping their competitive environment. In this context, Carsten reminded us of three essential and interconnected messages; 1) within the human rights due diligence- a risk based approach it is essential for businesses to address modern slavery, 2) despite the complexity of supply chains the focus should be on people and the harm to people, and finally, 3) to look deeper: while things might appear ‘acceptable’ on the surface, it is important to be aware of potential flags that indicate we should look deeper into our supply chains.

Zoic and Bartier Perry aim for this presentation to have tangible impacts that generate social value.