Businesses across the Commonwealth could be the key to eradicating modern slavery globally, Australia’s foreign minister has said.
Julie Bishop called the practice an “abomination” and said when the 53 Commonwealth nations speak, the world listens.
Speaking at the launch of a Walk Free Foundation report on modern slavery in the Commonwealth on Tuesday, on the fringe of the Commonwealth Summit in London, she said: “Commonwealth nations make up a quarter of the United Nations, with 2.4 billion citizens.
“We make a difference when we speak.
“Modern slavery is an abomination, an affront to our humanity and demands an urgent response.
“The power of business should never be underestimated.”
Modern slavery includes forced labour, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and slavery practices – which now include forced marriage.
The latest figures found about 40.3 million people – mostly female – were in modern slavery globally in 2016, including in every single Commonwealth country.
The Australian foreign minister said she was encouraged by the positive reaction when her government consulted with businesses about making companies publish public reports on their supply chains and what they are doing to address modern slavery.
Australia is set to pass a Modern Slavery Act this year, using business as one of its core methods of sifting out those holding people as slaves.
Based on the UK’s act in 2015, which made it the first country to legislate against slavery in its modern form, Ms Bishop said she hopes Australia’s laws will influence other countries to do the same.
Australian businessman and philanthropist Andrew Forrest, who founded the Walk Free Foundation to end modern slavery, said the practice could be easily halted worldwide if all businesses looked at their supply chain and refused to work with companies using slaves.
He has come up with 10 measures which he says will stop modern slavery by 2030 – the UN’s target for ending forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour.
The billionaire chairman of Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) said the easiest steps were to engage with business and empower women and girls.
He told Sky News: “I believe that not removing modern slavery from a country is what will hold countries back.
“Every leader wants growth – you’re not going to get that with modern slavery as it means you are tolerating a negative economic multiplier.
“Don’t underestimate the symbolism – companies can put a sign on their door, virtual or physical, saying ‘we will not tolerate slavery in our supply chains’.
“Secondly, check out your supply chains, if you’re keeping people through holding passports you can be pretty much guaranteed that those contractors serving you have slaves.
“If you’re tolerating practices which define modern slavery, particularly not allowing employees to move companies, that’s a very strong clue that you’re harbouring modern slaves.”
The businessman admitted it can be expensive to use accounting processes to audit every supplier, but said FMG wrote to its 3,000 suppliers asking them to sign a declaration that none of their supply chain used modern slaves, and that they could personally guarantee that.
“We had dozens not wanting to sign it, we checked out just three and they all were using modern slaves,” he said.
“In fact, one was a British plc in London and they were also supplying hundreds of other Fortune 500 Index companies.
“I rang up the chief exec and said ‘I”ll make you really famous if you continue to tolerate slavery – by the time you drive home tonight you’ll be covered in cameras’.
“We said ‘give all the passports back and make sure your suppliers do the same’. He did it that day. That’s the power of business to business.”