The risk of enforcement for breaching new anti-slavery laws may feel remote, but businesses have become increasingly aware of the long-lasting financial and reputational damage caused by negative publicity

Global supply chains have become increasingly complex and interconnected in recent years, so how can compliance officers and risk managers ensure the integrity of their company’s global operations and defend it from reputational risk?

Though the risk of enforcement for breaching anti-slavery laws may feel remote, businesses have become increasingly aware of the long-lasting financial and reputational damage caused by negative publicity, should they be found negligent in their ethical and legal obligations.

Australia is joining a growing number of governments including Britain, Hong Kong, France, United States and The Netherlands demanding new anti-slavery laws governing the supply chains of big corporates.

As Australia’s Parliament continues to thrash out the details of a new Modern Slavery Act following the enactment of similar laws pioneered in the UK with its Modern Slavery Act (2015) and California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (2010), StrategicRISK spoke to Fiona Graham, managing consultant at Exiger, who offers Australian risk managers five steps that can be employed as part of a sustainable compliance programme that blends technology and practical expertise to identify and prevent modern slavery.

 5 key steps to promote transparency

1. Ensure staff are aware of their responsibilities

To implement real change, education and awareness is key. Policies should be implemented throughout your organisation, beyond compliance and legal departments and down to the frontline.

For example, companies can ensure responsible procurement by bringing together their ethical and buying teams, making social performance the deciding factor when choosing between suppliers and setting sustainability objectives in procurement targets.

2. Collaborate

Human rights abuses are rarely standalone incidents. More often, they are systemic across a region or country. NGOs are an invaluable source of local intelligence. Industry bodies support their members to address risks below the first tier and to help share costs. Leverage your purchasing power by collaborating with your peers where your supply chains overlap.

3. Continuous improvement

Start with either your first tier or with the product, sector or country that poses the highest risk – focusing your enhanced due diligence efforts there. Educate your highest risk suppliers and require them to conduct their own due diligence on their partners to increase transparency beyond your first tier.

Where you start isn’t as important as what you do. Adopt a risk-based phased approach, as effective engagement with your first tranche of third parties should instigate a domino effect of good behavior and continual improvement throughout your supply chain.

4. Tech-enabled due diligence and third-party management

Supply chains are becoming increasingly complex, costly and difficult to manage at scale. As a result, compliance departments are progressively adopting artificial intelligence (AI) based tools to automate due diligence and third-party management processes, to help create third-party compliance programmes that are sustainable and more reliable.

Tools such as DDIQ and Exiger Insight 3PM build on open source and proprietary database searches for negative news and blogs linking third parties with modern slavery. They conduct ongoing monitoring of third parties by submitting and analysing automated questionnaires. Based on the questionnaire responses and open source research, they then risk-rank tens of thousands of third parties.

Amongst thousands of other real-time data sources, slavery risk indices can help identify areas vulnerable to exploitation by evaluating countries based on the strength of their laws, the effectiveness of their enforcement and the estimated number of people living in modern slavery.

5. Make disclosure a strength

When a company proactively identifies modern slavery, this should be considered a sign that the controls in their compliance programme are sufficient and operating successfully. Though some companies remain hesitant to disclose such issues, through fear of negative media attention, we must praise, and support those who successfully identify and prevent modern slavery. The best S54 statements highlight not only what you will do, but they also document identified breaches and what you have done.

Sadly, modern slavery will not be eradicated anytime soon. By increasing transparency in your own supply chains and by disclosing your own good practice, however, you can help protect your organisation from reputational risk whilst also playing a pivotal role in the collective movement to raise industry standards – making continuous improvement towards the identification and prevention of modern slavery worldwide.