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In the quest to end modern slavery, shared value may hold key

October 2, 2017

In recent news, Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest raised the need for big businesses to report on their anti-slavery processes.

Business and government leaders came together in Perth on 25 August to discuss steps toward ending modern slavery. This was the first time the six year old intergovernmental Bali Process had included corporate leaders, in a move which Forrest said had the power to end the practice of slavery in the Indo-Pacific.

In general, business acknowledges that more needs to be done to address this problem. However, there is concern that Australia may end up with laws that are too prescriptive, placing stricter requirements on business as compared to other nations like the UK, that has a Modern Slavery Act.

Transparency and Collaboration

Recognising that modern slavery may occur through the supply chain and customers can guide business with the next steps to identify, assess, mitigate and monitor potential risks.

NAB for example has issued a statement last year. As part of NAB’s supply chain management, suppliers need to meet certain criteria, in accordance with a Supplier Sustainability Principals (GSSPs) in order to do business with the NAB Group. In the 2016 financial year, NAB did not identify any instances of modern slavery or human trafficking associated directly with its operations. In risk assessments undertaken to date in relation to NAB’s supply chain, no cases of modern slavery or human trafficking were identified. In the same year, it is in the process of reviewing training for employees to report and monitor modern slavery.

Can this be the way to go for major businesses?

Business has the potential, resources, and capabilities to develop innovative solutions to address social and environmental problems. In the shared value context, shared value creation is achieved through the integration of business activities with environmental and social management to create economic value, healthy ecosystems, and strong communities. In our current context, balance is disrupted, a gap where collaboration and partnerships can fill to stop the scale from tipping.

In a news report, Forrest was quoted as saying; “It is true that some 32 million people in the Indo-Pacific region suffer the servitude and incarceration of slavery.”

“But it’s also true that business and government have come together for the first time, and we have the power to end it. This has never been done before,” he added.

The concept of shared value motivates the search for opportunities to integrate business success with societal progress. These opportunities can be in the form of innovation to identify potential slavery, check points in the supply chain as well as a seamless feedback mechanism that goes from employees to business leaders that may be integral to prevent slavery. Shared value may have a long way to go to solve a social issue as massive as this. Collaboration and partnerships between business, government and suppliers may just be that very first step required to break the barrier between choosing to know and deciding to act. Beyond raising awareness, a shared value framework with input from companies, government and community, might provide business with the capability to understand how to approach the issue.

Perhaps then, companies can truly transform their business models in a deep and meaningful way.