What viable but principled regulatory model is best suited to regulating business supply-chains to ensure that they do not tolerate or promote forced labour, human trafficking, etc ('modern slavery')?
Does legislation that requires corporate reporting on measures taken within one's supply-chain to address these risks -- but which does not imposes statutory consequences for not complying -- have a place here?
Many activists argue 'Not'.
I would disagree. One can be highly motivated about addressing modern slavery in business supply-chains, yet support legislative models that others dismiss as 'undemanding'.
Australia is proposing a legislative model on this issue, drawing on s. 54 of the UK's 2015 Modern Slavery Act. The consultation on the proposed approach closed last week. (See the Consultation Paper here).
Last week I made a lengthy submission to that consultation.
Here is the gist...:
- If the aim is to foster business engagement in preventing and solving the underlying problems, a model that give businesses space to address its operations and supply chains (which they know better than any regulator could), that is not prescriptive about reporting, and that does not impose penalties for non-compliance is defensible ...
- If the model clearly signals to business that more demanding / intrusive regulation is conditionally being held in reserve for a period, and will be implemented if the uptake by business is merely perfunctory and the reporting patterns do not indicate proper engagement in due diligence and other processes to identify, prevent, resolve and remedy human rights risks...
This is from the intro to that submission, making the above points:
"... The point of all this is not the adoption of ‘tough’ regulatory postures for their own sake (even if these were politically viable): instead the point is to find ways to incentivise and support Australian entities to systematically identify and to prevent or address the underlying human rights risks...
... many features [of the proposed legislation] which this submission supports (such as refraining from any statutory consequences for non-reporting) are ultimately only justifiable, or likely to be received as legitimate by civil society, on a certain condition. This is that there ought to be a clear, signalled government message to business that government ... is prepared in future to consider more intrusive, demanding legislative measures if it is found that the proposed approach is not engendering meaningful engagement with the problem..."
See previous posts on 'modern slavery' and its regulation (in Australia and generally), most recently here.