Modern slavery and vertical villages

By Dr Janette Corcoran

The nature of modern slavery is that it hides in our plain sight.

When speaking of slavery, often images of chained labour-gangs or back street sweatshops come to mind – images with little apparent relevance to our nice vertical villages.

But according to The Australian Human Rights Commission “it is the nature of modern slavery to hide in plain sight”. 

And it can do this because modern slavery involves offenders using “invisible” coercion, threats or deception to exploit victims and undermine their freedom. It includes human trafficking and practices such as servitude, forced labour, debt bondage and forced marriage (but excludes substandard working conditions or underpayment of workers).

Modern slavery involves serious exploitation – and it is present in current-day Australia. 

In recognition of this, in January 2019, the Australian Government began implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2018. This Act requires large businesses (and other entities with annual revenue of more than AUD$100 million) to formally identify and address their modern slavery risks, and maintain responsible and transparent supply chains. And they must register their plans – modern slavery statements – on a publicly assessable site – modernslaveryregister.gov.au

So, what has this to do with our vertical villages? 

Obviously, we don’t generate annual revenues exceeding AUD$100 million!  

However, we do interact with sectors and businesses that do. 

Take for example, the property and construction sector. 

This sector has been identified by the Australian Human Rights Commission as facing an elevated risk of modern slavery within its operations and supply chains which, as we vertical villagers well know, are extensive and complex, often involving multiple international entities. As buyers of their end product, how confident are we in their practices?  As a step in the right direction, the Property Council of Australia (PCA) is leading a collaborative group of the 17 largest property companies (including Vicinity, Dexus and Mirvac) to develop a platform to gather and collate information from industry suppliers on their modern slavery exposures in operations and supply chain. Also, companies such as Mirvac, are registering their individual modern slavery statements on the government site which are available to us to peruse. 

Also of relevance to us is the cleaning sector, which has been specifically identified by the government as a key risk area for modern slavery in Australia. Our vertical villages routinely utilise cleaning services, but how much do we know about their work practices? To assist with this, the Australian Human Rights Commission has partnered with the Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF) to tackle modern slavery and labour exploitation in this industry. But the question remains, as beneficiaries of such services, what is our responsibility to ensure there are no exploitative practices occurring on our property?

While I am not aware of any dedicated activity in the residential strata sector, the facilities management industry is taking steps. The Facility Management Association (FMA), the peak national industry body for facilities management, recently hosted a webinar on “The Modern Slavery Act & FM”.  This session identified the security sector as another industry which often suffers from exploitative labour practices and noted the need for us to be aware of the practices used by the services we engage. 

As regards specific actions for us vertical villages, the advice is to: 

  • Consider our supply chain – in particular, our cleaning and security services, by checking if they have registered a modern slavery statement; 
  • Ensure building management is aware of labour practices and procurement guidelines (e.g. CAF building certification process, a holistic assessment of a building or precinct’s cleaning supply chain). 
  • Monitor apartment usage (e.g. overcrowding) as the Human Rights Commission advises there are key signs which can indicate exploitative practices, such as multiple unrelated people (with a lack of belongings) living at one address.

And finally, check if your strata and building management companies have registered their modern slavery statement – or are even aware of these requirements! •

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