Investors back modern slavery compensation

A group of 45 investors with $11.9 trillion in assets under management have signalled support for a national compensation scheme for modern slavery victim-survivors in Australia.

There are at least 1900 victim-survivors of modern slavery in Australia, according to Australian government estimates.

Although a criminal offence, there is no national compensation scheme to support victim-survivors.

A national compensation scheme was first recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in 2017.

Now the investor-led, multi-stakeholder initiative Investors Against Slavery and Trafficking Asia Pacific (IAST APAC) has joined the with the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), international human rights group Walk Free, and the Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAST) initiative, to call for such a scheme.

IAST APAC is made up of investors including Australian Retirement Trust, First Sentier, HESTA, REST, Ausbil, Ethical Partners, and Challenger.

The group argues that business models and supply chains that rely on underpayment of workers, underpaid workers, weak regulations, and illegal activities such as forced labour, are unsustainable.

Companies that practice such activities are exposed to compliance and brand risk, which may negatively impact on investor returns.

"Modern slavery is a systemic issue that requires systemic approaches for prevention, mitigation and remediation," the group said in a statement.

Australia's anti-human trafficking strategy and National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery includes a support program for trafficked people, which provides financial and counselling assistance to victim-survivors of human trafficking, slavery, forced marriage and forced labour.

In December the federal government introduced legislation to establish a Federal Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

"The Anti-Slavery Commissioner Bill 2023 is a landmark reform which delivers on our election commitment to add a new, independent pillar to Australia's comprehensive response to modern slavery," Dreyfus said.

At present, New South Wales is the only Australian state to have a Modern Slavery Commissioner.

Also in December the minister for social services Amanda Rishworth and the Attorney-General of Australia Mark Drefus announced $14.3m to support victim-survivors of modern slavery in Australia.

"The government is doing everything we can to eliminate [modern slavery] from our society," Rishworth said.

"Australian investors see modern slavery as an investment risk," RIAA head of policy and advocacy Nayanisha Samarakoon told FS Sustainability.

"A business model that relies on underpaid workers, weak regulation or illegal activities like modern slavery will not produce sustainable earnings."

Read more: IAST APACMark DrefusAmanda RishworthAusbilAustralian Retirement TrustChallengerDreyfusEthical PartnersFirst SentierHESTAModern Slavery CommissionerNayanisha SamarakoonRESTRIAA