How much do you know about William Wilberforce, Mary Prince, Thomas Clarkson or Granville Sharp?

For those struggling to recall their contribution to history, they were some of the leading figures in the campaign for the abolition of slavery across British land and colonies in 1833.

Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, and contrary to the commonly held belief today that slavery has been abolished, this blight on our society is still an issue nearly 200 years later.

While its prevalence is not as brazen or as supported as it was during the slave trade years, in many ways its hidden nature makes it a worse scourge now than it used to be. Many people today would recoil in horror to think something they were buying was the result of slavery.

A recent report by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) suggested the mining industry, so crucial to the economy, was a sector at high risk of being affected by modern slavery due to its extensive supply chains.

Despite this, the report declared the mining sector was a mature one and noted there were a number of companies which had demonstrated leadership on modern slavery, though it said increased transparency was required to chip away at the issue.

January 1 this year saw Australia’s long-awaited Modern Slavery Act (MSA) come into effect.

The MSA follows a similar act introduced in the UK in 2015 and requires large businesses and other organisations with a consolidated revenue of more than $100 million to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.

Companies under the $100 million threshold will still be able to report voluntarily in connection with the MSA.

Mining leads the way

A number of companies within the mining industry took it upon themselves to report voluntarily before the introduction of the MSA.

One such company was Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), which released its inaugural Modern Slavery Voluntary Statement in 2018.

“We oppose all forms of slavery and forced labour across our operations and the operations of our suppliers and will continue to work closely with these businesses to eliminate slavery from supply chains,” FMG CEO Elizabeth Gaines said.

“Fortescue’s public commitment to eradicate the scourge of modern slavery began in 2012, and significant structural change and policy frameworks to realise this target were put in place in the first 12 months.

“Today, consultants, agents, contractors and suppliers are required to comply with Fortescue’s Code of Conduct and Integrity and Human Rights Policy through contractual arrangements and procurement principles.

“In addition, our standard terms and conditions require our suppliers to meet minimum standards in ethical business practices, safety and environment. We also ask all suppliers commit to working with us to eradicate slavery from their organisation and supply chains.

“A priority for financial year 2019 is for Fortescue to deliver modern slavery training to all procurement staff to ensure they are able to assist suppliers in building their capabilities.”

Last year was also an important year for the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), as it became the first industry body to commit to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

As part of this, it announced new membership requirements to advance the sustainability of performance of the mining sector.

These new requirements and performance expectations apply to all ICMM’s company members, who manage nearly 650 assets in over 50 countries covering nearly half of the world’s iron ore and copper production and over a quarter of all mined commodities by value, according to a release by the organisation.

One ICMM member that has been working towards the eradication of modern slavery is Anglo American, which has taken part in several global forums, including the Responsible Sourcing Working Group and other initiatives of the ICMM.

“As part of our commitment to eradicate modern slavery, Anglo American publishes an annual group statement which demonstrates our approach to preventing modern slavery in our operations and supply chain,” Anglo American Group Head of International and Government Relations Froydis Cameron said.

“We have a responsible sourcing program in place for suppliers and prospective suppliers. This program includes our responsible sourcing standard for suppliers, which details our expectations of existing or prospective suppliers and provides guidance on implementing the standard.

“The work across peer mining and extractive companies will inform our future activity, identifying where Anglo American can play a broader role to influence the industry.

“We also recognise some suppliers and other industries have robust programs in place that we can learn from and work collaboratively within our industry to design consistent standards that are practical and scalable.”

Working collaboratively, especially on such a large and complex issue as eradicating modern slavery, is undoubtedly one of the most productive ways forward and is crucial, according to South32 Vice President Supply Mariette Steyn.

“As an industry we can influence change within our supply chain networks, promote ethical business standards, share knowledge and pool our resources,” she said.

“In Perth, there are a number of businesses, including South32, that meet regularly to work on driving genuine change. There is growing momentum and it’s encouraging to see this collaboration in action.

“Given the scale of modern slavery, collaboration is so important in driving meaningful change. Only by aligning our approaches and sharing our learnings can we eradicate slavery from our supply chains.”

On a local level, South32 has implemented strong internal policies and procedures with clear requirements for suppliers, which is the essential first step in the eradication of slavery, according to Ms Steyn.

“As we strengthen our global ethical sourcing plan, we are increasingly working to identify risks at the supplier onboarding stages through self-assessment questionnaires and additional due diligence, including using independent specialist auditors for our highest risk suppliers,” she said.

“Supplier high-risk mapping helps us to prioritise our efforts, and we’re always looking for opportunities to provide training and capacity-building, both for our employees and our suppliers.

“We also have complaints and grievance procedures at all of our operations. This allows community members and other interested stakeholders, like our suppliers, to raise issues directly and anonymously. We respond to all complaints and grievances and work to resolve any issue as soon as possible.”

Are we doing enough?

The introduction of the Australian Modern Slavery Act (MSA) at the start of this year brought Australia in line with other major countries over the eradication of modern slavery but, as with any legislation, there will be questions about whether it does enough.

One of the criticisms of the MSA was the lack of a formal penalty for companies that fail to lodge an annual statement as required, or that lodge an incomplete one.

In spite of this, its introduction has been quite well received by a number of parties.

“We welcome the introduction of the Australian Modern Slavery Act because we believe the development of a strong legislative framework will lead to significant advances in the prevention of modern slavery in Australia and within the supply chains of businesses and organisations that operate in Australia and overseas,” FMG CEO Elizabeth Gaines said.

For Anglo American, which is bound by both the UK and Australian legislation, Group Head of International and Government Relations Froydis Cameron said the Australian version was broadly consistent but more prescriptive than the UK Act.

“We welcome the additional guidance, as it removes potential ambiguity related to corporate disclosures and the role of larger companies,” she said.

South32 is not only set to be bound by the requirements of the Australian MSA, but also participated in the consultation for the legislation.

“We advocated for the introduction of the laws and contributed to other policy forums to address modern slavery,” South32 Vice President Supply Mariette Steyn said.

Overcoming high risks

In response to the ACSI report, which found the mining sector was at high risk of being affected by modern slavery, Ms Steyn said although the company’s suppliers were located around the world with a multi-layered supply chain, the mining industry was generally well regulated.

“There are checks and balances in place to address human rights risks, security, health, safety and more, meaning we have a good foundation to tackle these challenges, but there’s still more we can do as an industry,” she said.

That could come down to simply raising awareness of the prevalence of modern slavery in the world.

An important step forward in doing so was identified in Australia’s MSA by Ms Cameron, who said the reporting requirements enabled the general public to hold large business accountable.

“Increased visibility and awareness of the issue amongst the general public will help promote compliance among smaller businesses,” she said.

For Fortescue Metals Group, local procurement lowered supply chain risk. Ms Gaines said more than 98 per cent of FMG’s total procurement spend was within Australia, a considerable proportion in Western Australia and the Pilbara region.

Image: Anglo American