This article originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review.
Mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest says every Australian can help stop insidious global slavery by doing something as simple as stopping to ask the check out operator about your produce before you buy it.
Mr Forrest’s philanthropic work, including his efforts to eradicate global slavery, has been recognised in Australia Day celebrations.
Mr Forrest, chairman and founder of Fortescue Metals Group, is a recipient of the Officer of the Order of Australia and was a contender for this year’s Australian of the Year title (after being selected as the West Australian Australian of the Year). Queensland scientist Alan Mackay-Sim was named the 2017 Australian of the Year on Wednesday night.
Mr Forrest is passionate about ending indigenous disparity and ridding the world of slavery through his Walk Free Foundation. According to the Global Slavery Index, 45.8 million people across 167 countries are enslaved – the highest level in history.
These include people held against their will for domestic servitude, enslaved to the sex industry, children forced to be labourers and child soldiers.
NSW Australian of the Year, Deng Adut, was taken from his family and forced to fight as a soldier in Sudan in north-eastern Africa when was just six.
He is now a lawyer and refugee advocate.
Mr Forrest said more than 70 per cent of the world’s slaves were in Asia, where many Australian companies source products and goods.
Mr Forrest wants every chief executive to demand its supply chain is slave-free by requiring international suppliers to sign legal documents declaring they do not use modern slavery, which his Fortescue Metals Group did in 2012.
Mr Forrest argues Australians are consuming the products of slavery to remain in our comfortable lifestyle – everything from food, electrical goods, clothing, jewellery, cosmetics and even pet food are often touched by slavery.
For example, Thailand’s multi-billion dollar seafood uses migrant slaves.
Asked if he has changed his shopping habits, Mr Forrest said he “certainly asks” that his goods have come from a credible and ethical source.
“If you are not sure, you should ask. If you are at the supermarket, ask the teller,” Mr Forrest said.
By asking the check-out operator, the request should be passed up to a manager and possibly go right up to the chief executive.
For the nation’s CEOs Mr Forrest also wants tougher action.
In 2012 Fortescue Metals Group asked around 3000 suppliers to sign legal documents ensuring they were not using modern slavery to produce goods or services.
Mr Forrest said it found “about 10” were uncertain and one had “very severe slavery” and was making goods for hundreds of companies
Fortescue worked with the contractor to eradicate the use of slaves and the contractor still works with miner.
He wants the nation’s CEO’s be certain their supply chains are slave free. He has previously called on the Australian government to consider legislation similar to the UK Modern Slavery Act to ensure Australian companies are held responsible for exploitation in their supply chains
“It is extremely unlikely that everyone would be doing it knowingly,” Mr Forrest said.
“But every single chief executive can help.”
He said it was important to tell suppliers that they would not be punished if there was slavery but instead offer to help tidy up the system.
He said one American entrepreneur had told him he didn’t want to look in to his supply chain because if he found something the media would feast on the possible stories.
“People like that will be eventually found out,” Mr Forrest said.
Mr Forrest said being a nominated for Australian of the Year – as a business person – reflected that nation’s natural persuasion for “giving”.
“It is an integral part of the Australian character. Giving is a big part of the Australian character,” Mr Forrest said.
“This is a time for Australians to embrace who we are as Australians and giving is a core part.”
He said helping someone else, and to the very extreme – saving a life- was “so meaningful and valuable”.