Firms warned of coronavirus slavery risk

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
27 April 2020

Firms are being urged to consider the potential impact of the coronavirus outbreak on modern slavery.

The Australian Border Force (ABF) said factory shutdowns and order cancellations could increase the exposure of workers to modern slavery and companies should take steps to protect them.

“Factory shutdowns, order cancellations, workforce reductions and sudden changes to supply chain structures can disproportionately affect some workers and increase their exposure to modern slavery and other forms of exploitation,” said the ABF, which is resonsible for implementing the country’s criminal justice response to modern slavery.

“There are a variety of reasons why some workers may be more vulnerable to modern slavery. These include loss of income or fear of loss of income, low awareness of workplace rights, requirements to work excessive overtime to cover capacity gaps, increased demand due to supply chain shortages or the inability to safely return to home countries.”

In guidance the ABF said firms should take steps including the following:

• Maintaining supplier relationships and fostering open communication with suppliers about Covid-19 risks. Where practicable, entities should maintain supplier relationships, including honouring current contracts where possible and recognising that purchasing practices such as short production windows and last-minute or short-term orders may increase modern slavery risks for workers.

• Paying for completed work and extending orders over time to help ensure ongoing cash flow for suppliers.

• Avoiding varying contracts unreasonably or seeking discounts from suppliers.

• Asking suppliers for information on steps they have taken to protect their workers from Covid-19, such as providing workers with protective equipment, providing sick leave or carer’s leave, and increasing cleaning in factories and buildings to minimise risk of infection.

• Asking suppliers whether there are ways they can work with the supplier to support affected workers, such as guaranteeing workers’ wages or leave conditions for set periods.

• Asking suppliers whether new or changed orders will require them to take on additional workers or require additional overtime from current workers.

• Continuing existing supplier due diligence and remediation processes and adjusting these processes where necessary to ensure risks linked to evolving supply chains and changing workforce structures are identified and addressed. This should include ensuring workers continue to have access to grievance mechanisms, such as hotlines.

• Collaborating with suppliers, workers, business peers, investors, civil society and trade bodies to identify best-practice approaches to protect and support vulnerable workers in global operations and supply chains.

• Informing and educating workers about modern slavery risks linked to the impacts of Covid-19.

• Redeploying workers to mitigate the impact of workforce reductions.

• Ensuring workers are protected from illness and related impacts by providing, for example, appropriate protective equipment, leave and pay arrangements during periods of self-isolation and, where appropriate, safe locations to self-isolate.

• Supporting the safe return of migrant workers.

• Reviewing key international resources and implementing, where applicable, guidance to support decent work in supply chains.

The ABF also said it was important for organisations to assess and address modern slavery risks during the outbreak and to report on these actions in modern slavery statements.

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