Prepared by National Retail Association ESG Consultant, Dr Geoffrey Annison

Of all the issues included in the scope of ESG (Environment, Social, Governance), modern slavery is without a doubt the most confronting for businesses.

According to the 2022 International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report, 50 million persons (men, women, children) worldwide are currently victims of modern slavery, with around 40,000 here in Australia. The definition of modern slavery encompasses coercive behaviours which deny workers their most fundamental human rights – namely not to be forced into, or trapped, in labour.

In Australia, the Modern Slavery Act (2018) describes eight types of serious exploitation

  • Trafficking in persons
  • Slavery
  • Servitude
  • Forced marriage
  • Forced labour
  • Debt bondage
  • Deceptive recruiting for labour or services
  • The worst forms of child labour

The breadth of the practices means there is a high risk that modern slavery is present in every industry sector, including retail. The Act sets out reporting requirements for all entities with an annual turnover in excess of $100m p.a.. Reporting statements must explain what is being done to assess and address modern slavery risks in operations both in Australia and in overseas supply chains.

Australia’s Modern Slavery Act was reviewed last year with a final report being handed down in the federal parliament in May 2023. The recommendations include moving the focus of the Act from reporting statements to requiring companies to have a ‘due diligence system’ to give effect to the Act – namely reducing and ultimately eliminating modern slavery practices in supply chains.

The Government is yet to respond to the report, but it is clear that addressing the scourge of modern slavery is a priority with Ministers Justine Elliot and Penny Wong and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus being plenary speakers at the National Modern Slavery Conference hosted by the Attorney-General’s Department in June.

It is likely that a substantial strengthening of the Act is on the cards, including reducing the threshold of organisations subject to the Act from $100m to $50m p.a..

National Retail Association is in consultation with the Attorney General’s Department and will be advocating for changes that will be practical for industry to implement, whilst lowering substantially the risk of worker mistreatment in retail supply chains.

Interested in joining the National Retail Association ESG Committee?

Contact ESG Consultant, Dr Geoffrey Annison here