Investor response to Four Corners Slaving Away Program should be to advocate for legislation

Four Corners’ Slaving Away program has lifted the lid on the way over 150,000 workers on 457 visas are being ruthlessly exploited to deliver fruit and vegetables to our dinner tables.

The program reveals that for many Australia is not the “Lucky Country” but a place where the basic entitlement of fair work for fair pay does not exist . The fact that Australia has become a home of such practices should be a national shame.

For investors there is no question that this is an issue that we should engage on.

But what should we do?

Writing letters to Coles, Woolworths and other supermarket chains is an obvious action, but letter writing will not put the sustained pressure that will result in a change of behaviour.

My view is that investors should be advocating for legislation modelled on the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which was passed through California’s Senate in October 2010, becoming law on January 1 2012.

The law requires all retailers and manufacturers with annual global revenues of more than $100 million that do business in California to disclose information about their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chains where they make tangible goods for sale.

Businesses are required to publicly post information on their websites describing the extent to which they engage in the following:

Verification: Verify product supply chains to evaluate and address risks of human trafficking and slavery;

Auditing: Perform supplier audits to evaluate compliance with company standards;

Certification: Require certification by direct suppliers that materials incorporated into company products comply with the laws regarding slavery and human trafficking of the country or countries in which they are doing business;

Internal Accountability: Maintain internal accountability standards and procedures for employees or contractors that fail to meet company standards on slavery and trafficking; and

Training: Train relevant company employees and management on human trafficking and slavery, particularly concerning the mitigation of risk within supply chains.

Legislation will provide a mechanism for investors to assess whether companies have the risk management practices in place to ensure that workers are not being exploited.

Australian investors who do not have a depth of knowledge around slavery issues should look to partner with stakeholders that do. The best is Verité, an international not-for-profit consulting, training, and research NGO which works to ensure that people around the world work under safe, fair, and legal conditions.

According to Verité, “it is impossible to identify the hidden and insidious abuses of human trafficking and forced labour unless a company examines all aspects of workers’ employment, from the moment of recruitment to on-site employment, across the entire supply chain. If companies are serious about eradicating trafficking and forced labour, they must also look beyond their first-tier suppliers to ensure that businesses deep in their supply chains are mirroring their own commitments”.

The South Australian Government this week announced a parliamentary inquiry in response to Four Corners’ program. The inquiry provides a clear mechanism for investors to advocate solutions. By working together we have the capacity to change individuals’ lives.

Four Corners Slaving Away

Compliance is Not Enough: Best Practices in Responding to The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act

Click to access VTE_WhitePaper_California_Bill657FINAL5.pdf