Seafood, rubber gloves and oranges: the products you buy in Australia can be associated with modern slavery

the main points
  • A new report has been released on corporate reporting under Australia’s Modern Slavery Act.
  • The main sectors covered are horticulture, seafood, apparel and gloves.
  • Consumers are urged to vote using their wallets.
If your clothes are made in China, rubber gloves are from Malaysia and seafood is from Thailand, you may be at risk of supporting modern slavery practices, researchers warn.
These sectors have been identified as the sectors most at risk from modern slavery in a new report, by a coalition of human rights organizations and academics.

And despite previous warnings about the risks to Australian companies providing these products, little has changed to improve the risks.

Put shrimp on Barbie for Christmas? be cerfull

With the holiday season approaching and seafood identified in the report as a high-risk sector, researchers are warning Australian consumers to tread carefully.
Said one of the authors of the book in modern slavery.

“Basically, shrimp is a staple in Australia on Christmas Day,” said Martin Boersma, director of the Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Program at the University of Notre Dame, Australia.

“We see that companies that export seafood from Thailand do very poorly in their reporting of risk factors.
“It doesn’t take much Googling to realize that the seafood industry in Thailand has a horrific record – we’ve seen cases of people being held on ships in captivity forced to work sometimes for years at a time.”
Another high-risk product is cotton from China, which is produced almost entirely in Xinjiang — a region with links to alleged forced labor for the country’s Muslim Uyghur minority.
About 80 percent of China’s cotton is produced in Xinjiang, accounting for about 20 percent of global production.

A Chinese worker flutters and stocks cotton at a cotton processing plant in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, 2013. attributed to him: Sun Young/AP

Those T-shirts you’re buying? They may also be involved.

Production from Australia is another sector at risk from modern slavery practices.
“In Australia, the horticulture sector has long been identified as a sector subject to systematic exploitation and abusive working conditions,17 particularly for migrant workers on temporary visas,” the report states.
Rubber gloves from Malaysia is another industry: Labor exploitation is still prevalent in the Malaysian glove manufacturing sector in 2022, the report says.
“In response, the United States imposed several import bans on Malaysian rubber glove suppliers based on evidence of forced labour,” the report says.

What Australian companies are at risk?

Some of Australia’s most notorious shops and businesses were named in the report as having a high risk of being linked to modern slavery practices, and others for not properly reporting the level of risk.
But not all of them were of low rank. David Jones was one of the top companies analyzed in the report in the horticulture segment.
David Jones CEO Scott Fyfe told SBS News that the company recognizes that without diligence on its part, modern slavery has the potential to play out across “all aspects” of its business.
“We’re training the entire company to understand the importance of this and how to spot it so we can completely eliminate all forms of slavery from our work,” he said.
Man touching oranges on midsection tree

The report says the Australian horticultural sector has long been accused of being at risk of systematic exploitation and abusive working conditions. source: aap

“All of our employees are custodians of the iconic brand and as such play a role in protecting our legacy. It is critical that we have support across the company and provide a culture in which we can identify and act upon any risks.”

‘Vote with your wallet’: What consumers can do

Another author of the report, Freya Dencho, a senior attorney at the Human Rights Law Center, told SBS News that consumers should “vote with their wallet.”

“Consumers should absolutely engage with companies that are not throwing their weight around to mitigate and counter the risks of modern slavery,” she said.

Should companies be punished?

Ms Dinshaw said consumers should support companies to “do the right thing”, but to properly tackle the problem Australia needs government intervention.
The In Australia, companies require companies to report potential links to modern slavery in their supply chains and how to mitigate those links, but it does not ban high-risk products.
There is also no penalty for companies that do not report links to modern slavery.
The report recommends penalizing companies that do not meet reporting guidelines, as links to high-risk areas do not diminish under the current system.
One way this could happen, the authors say, is if companies are fined or excluded from public tenders.
Ms Denshaw said the government must ensure Australian companies “never benefit from exploitation and abuse” in their supply chains.

She said the report calls on the government to oblige it to act on the links of modern slavery and to “not just report it”, penalize failure to mitigate the risks, and appoint an independent anti-slavery commissioner.

Ramila Chanyshev, president of the Australian Uyghur Women’s Association Tangritag, told SBS News she was saddened by the lack of improvement since a similar report two years ago.
“The government has sufficient credible evidence in this matter, and not to take any action that proves harmful to the Uyghurs,” she said.

“Without policies, laws and penalties in place, these industries seem to continue to profit from forced labour.”

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