The Business of Ending Modern Slavery

The Business of Ending Modern Slavery

Globally, modern slavery impacts nearly  46 million people. While for many this invokes images of crowded fashion industry sweatshops, the real picture is far more pervasive – touching every industry, and almost every supply chain. And in Australia, conservative estimates suggest 15,000 people are living and working in slave-like conditions. While the Australian Institute of Criminology puts those numbers closer to 1900 identified cases, they also say it is likely that only 1 in 5 are identified. Either way, even one person living in slavery in Austarlia is one too many.

“Here we’re seeing it mostly in the agriculture, construction, domestic service, hospitality, retail and sex industries,” explains Sarah Morse, Macquarie University Incubator resident and cofounder of startup Unchained Business Services with husband and Macquarie alumnus, Dr Stephen Morse. “Also, the risk has increased immeasurably with COVID-19, particularly among students and migrant workers excluded from government support. Global numbers are also growing faster than can be counted, with the disruption of global supply chains.”

With the announcement of the implementation of the NSW Modern Slavery Act on the horizon, more businesses will be pursuing compliance. Unchained’s free online mini gaps analysis survey enables anyone wanting to take the first step to engaging their business to dive in now.

“Our vision is to put the Modern Slavery Act on every boardroom table in Australia in a way that businesses feel inspired to comply, rather than pressured,” says Sarah. “And then to help them go further and see the ripple effect they can have on poverty – the primary cause of slavery.”

Stephen and Sarah created Unchained to help Australian companies comply with the Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act 2018, a culmination of decades of deep involvement in humanitarian work. After the couple spent five years in human trafficking intervention in Spain – during which time Stephen wrote his doctorate on the topic – they returned to assimilate their expertise and lived experience into something meaningful back home.

“At the time, the Act hadn’t yet been passed,” Sarah recalls. “We developed this idea of helping companies to first comply, then build on that to make a genuine impact on modern slavery. Underneath our vision lies the stories of survivors we worked with who’d been trafficked into Spain. We want to make a systemic impact which also touches individual lives.”

Unchained provides facilitation, training and strategic planning services to companies of varying types and sizes. While others – including top tier firms – offer compliance consulting, Unchained stands alone in its approach favouring positivity, inspiration, empowerment and long term impact. Unchained encourages businesses they work with to lead beyond compliance and be a horizontal reference point for others in their industry, through a multi-stage process, beginning with engaging the board and executive via an interactive workshop.

“The enormity of examining and taking ownership of their supply chains can be daunting for companies,” Sarah explains. “But beyond an intentionally ethical brand, practically everyone has slaves in their supply chains. So let’s normalise that conversation, and support them to take action and embrace a greater role in ending slavery.”

Unchained walks the talk, donating their profits to Freedom Business Alliance’s social enterprises to empower survivors, mostly women, through training and employment programs. Not content to wait for financial year-end to generate impact, five per cent of revenues from every gaps analysis session are immediately diverted to the Alliance. The startup is also working with UK-based partner Fifty Eight, who are currently piloting an app to give workers a voice, and eyeing future expansion in Australia and beyond.