The Indelible Power of Your Company’s Modern Slavery Policy

Blog post Team CENTRL 2021-01-05

Modern Slavery Policy

3 Building Blocks for a Meaningful Modern Slavery Policy

The phrase “personnel is policy” is often tossed around after a change in power from one political party in national government to another. The saying reflects an assumption that the new person sitting in the executive office cannot alone promulgate, implement, and assure adherence to the policies of that person’s political party. The new chief executive must also appoint members of their same political party to other positions of power in the government in order to fully effectuate the preferred policies of that political party.

It may be time to flip that narrative and focus on a policy that addresses the importance of personnel, a group that includes the personnel of your company and your company’s suppliers. In addressing and remediating modern slavery risks in the workplace, a more apt saying may be that “policy is personnel.”

As of January 5, 2021, over 250 entities had submitted modern slavery statements to the Australian Border Force (ABF). These statements are now posted at the ABF’s online register and they offer some interesting insights into how some companies have chosen to implement their own modern slavery governance and compliance programs to meet the specific reporting requirements under Australia’s Modern Slavery Act (MSA). Although the statements vary in length, topics covered, complexity, and quality, most of the reporting entities recognized the importance of adopting a formal modern slavery policy, whether as a stand-alone policy or in a group of related policies.

One company noted that it maintained “a suite of policies and procedures that are designed to support its efforts to screen, assess and manage the risks of modern slavery … risks in its supply chain.” Another company noted that it had “adopted policies which reflect its commitment to ensure that all participants in its supply chain meet or exceed local legal requirements; meet or exceed labour standards set by the International Labour Organisation; and to work with supply chain participants to engage in … sustainable practices.”

The two quotes above highlight an important issue and one recently recognized by the ABF as a common mistake made by a number of reporting entities in their modern slavery statements submitted to the ABF. As the ABF noted, some companies focused solely on the modern slavery risks in their supply chains and neglected to focus on the modern slavery risks in their own business operations. Since modern slavery compliance is both an internal and external issue, your company’s modern slavery statement - and modern slavery policy - should focus on the full spectrum of modern slavery risks in your workplaces and in the workplaces of your suppliers.

Any company policy, regardless of the issue covered in the policy, should, at a minimum, set out the company’s expectations, address compliance with the applicable legal requirements, and serve as a reference source for your employees, so they know, among other things, where to turn for help. Three key issues should be addressed in your company’s modern slavery policy, whether that policy is a stand-alone document or included in a suite of policies, to ensure it addresses the full scope of your company’s compliance obligations under the MSA.

3 Key Modern Slavery Policy Building Blocks

  • Values

Your company’s modern slavery policy should explain the company’s commitment to eradicating modern slavery practices and that the company has demonstrated this commitment through the implementation and enforcement of robust systems and controls to ensure that modern slavery practices are not taking place and will not take place in its business operations or supply chain tiers. The policy should also explain that the company expects these same high standards from all of its suppliers. These policy statements should reflect the overarching values of the company to act ethically in the marketplace, with integrity to all workers, whether employed by the company or its suppliers, and with transparency to all stakeholders.

  • Vision

Reporting companies are expected to adopt a continuous improvement approach to compliance with the MSA. Your company’s modern slavery policy should also reflect this continuous improvement goal by outlining the company’s long-range vision to proactively assess, address, and remediate modern slavery risks in its own workplaces and in the workplaces of its suppliers.

  • Voice

Your company’s modern slavery policy should clearly inform your employees of how they can raise concerns or suspicions, either by name or anonymously, about modern slavery practices in any part of the company’s business operations, supply chain, or the supply chain of any supplier. Your policy should encourage employees to voice any such concerns as early as possible.

Moving from Good Cause to Great Modern Slavery Policy

The MSA was enacted in 2018, but the reporting requirements under the law are now live. The first modern slavery statement reporting deadline for companies using a foreign financial year has come and gone. Companies that use an Australian financial year must submit their first modern slavery statement to the ABF by March 31, 2021. For calendar year companies, their first reporting deadline is June 30, 2021. The MSA requires companies to file statements every year so the compliance clock keeps ticking even after your first statement is filed with the ABF.

As we move into a new year, it is a good time to resolve to review your company’s existing modern slavery policy to ensure it includes the three basic building blocks and that it focuses on the modern slavery risks in both your business operations and supply chain. If your company has not yet drafted a modern slavery policy, these three basic building blocks should help you in crafting a new and meaningful policy.

The MSA was enacted to provide transparency into the full range of modern slavery risks in the business operations and supply chains of reporting companies. Your modern slavery policy should highlight your commitment to eradicating modern slavery practices in your workplaces and in the workplaces of your suppliers and in doing so, provide your employees with an indelible understanding of your corporate values. Also, take the opportunity to highlight the depth and breadth of your policy in your modern slavery statement filed with the ABF to provide the world with that same indelible understanding.

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