Investors pressure Australian firms to tackle slavery in Asia-Pacific

by Matt Blomberg | @BlombergMD | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 12 November 2020 11:00 GMT

Shoppers wait to cross a main road and walk along a footpath near retail stores located in the central business district (CBD) of Sydney, Australia, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray

Image Caption and Rights Information

Australia became the second country to introduce legislation aimed specifically at addressing modern slavery in 2019

By Matt Blomberg

PHNOM PENH, Nov 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Leading investors urged big businesses in Australia on Thursday to eradicate modern slavery from their Asia-Pacific supply chains, as thousands of companies prepare to present their first reports under the country's new anti-slavery law.

A group of 24 investment firms, with AU$5.8 trillion ($4.22 trillion) under management, sent letters to 100 Australian Stock Exchange-listed companies, demanding they take responsibility for labour abuses involving their suppliers.

"Ensuring we act on and address modern slavery risks in our portfolio is something that we take very seriously," said Liza McDonald of Aware Super, one of the members of the new Investors Against Slavery and Trafficking (IAST) group.

"We engage and respond to these issues individually; but to really shift the dial and have a lasting impact, we believe a collaborative and unified approach from investors can be so much more powerful," McDonald, head of responsible investments at the pension fund, said in a statement.

Australia became the second country to introduce legislation aimed specifically at addressing modern slavery in 2019, with experts saying the law was tougher than that introduced by Britain.

Under the law, businesses with turnover exceeding A$100 million ($73 million) must publish annual reports outlining their efforts to combat modern slavery in supply chains.

As part of the IAST initiative, members will be paired with companies to help identify and address labour exploitation as the businesses prepare their anti-slavery reports, a spokeswoman for the group told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"IAST's investor engagement will encourage companies to go beyond mere 'tick the box' compliance and tackle key risks in a meaningful way," said Louise Davidson, chief executive at the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, another member.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to more than half of the 40 million people trapped in modern slavery across the world, and over 70% of them are women and girls, according to the Walk Free Foundation.

"The financial sector is a powerful ally in our mission to protect the most vulnerable - and ultimately to create fairer and more sustainable economies," said Grace Forrest, co-founder of the global anti-trafficking charity.

The initiative comes as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on supply chains across the region, forcing many workers to accept worse conditions in order to retain their jobs.

($1 = A$1.37)

(Reporting by Matt Blomberg; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.