Property Council of Australia Develops Platform for Modern Slavery Data

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The Property Council of Australia (PCA) is leading a collaborative group of the 17 largest property companies in developing a tech platform that gathers and collates information from industry suppliers on their modern slavery exposures in operations and supply chain.

Robin Mellon, CEO of Better Sydney and member of the Australian government’s Modern Slavery Expert Advisory Group. The collaborative group, which includes Vicinity, Dexus, Mirvac and others, have paid for the development of a tech solution via Informed 365 to gather pre-competitive information from more than 1,000 supplier companies in the cleaning and security sectors in its pilot phase. The goal is to create a single source of reporting for suppliers and a pool of information that property companies can use when developing their Modern Slavery statements in accordance with the Australian Modern Slavery Act.

“This is a way of trying to look at the information and look at not just what do we know about our suppliers and what they know, and how they assess and address risks, but also what happens when we look at the suppliers all at once,” said Robin Mellon, CEO of Better Sydney and member of the Australian government’s Modern Slavery Expert Advisory Group. “The 17 largest property companies that are involved have a lot of shared suppliers, so how do we make this as easy as possible to collect the information, and how do we make it as easy as possible for the suppliers to report?”

“Informed 365 worked with the Property Council of Australia to develop a self-assessment questionnaire for suppliers to report on their modern slavery exposures, management and monitoring processes, as well as a risk framework to allow the property companies to assess their exposures to their tier one and tier two suppliers”, said Nicholas Bernhardt, CEO of Informed 365.

“To test the process, Informed 365 and the Property Council of Australia decided to focus on the cleaning and security sectors in its pilot stage, because those two supplier sectors were identified as bearing higher risk of modern slavery violations. The process of communicating to the common suppliers for the participating companies, as well as the collection and collation of data was a learning process”, Bernhardt said.

“The primary learning was we have to also advise the suppliers why they’re filling in these forms,” Bernhardt said. “A lot of them say, modern slavery, never heard of this, why bother? So we had to develop and provide educational material as part of this to give the suppliers a bit of clarity around why they’re completing this. The second learning was that to drive completion rates up, we have to automate email reminders, which is something that is an integral part of the solution.”

“Providing suppliers with education about modern slavery, the Modern Slavery Act, and how to fill out the questionnaire was integral to the solution because part of the proposal was to build out supplier knowledge and capability to provide more transparency year on year,” Mellon said.

“One of the outcomes from the project is that, understandably, everybody is at different levels of knowledge and maturity,” Mellon said. “If organisations do a little bit of learning through each period, by the time the next supplier assessment comes around, they are almost always in a better place.”

Acting as a collaborative group also allows the property sector to use its economies of scale to work with suppliers domestically and internationally to improve their practices around modern slavery.

Informed 365 is working more than 3,000 Australian companies that are legally required to report under the Modern Slavery Act, meaning that there are other industry applications beyond the property sector.

“At this stage, we’re about to launch two more industry specific standards, relating to the healthcare insurance sector and the energy utility sector,” Bernhardt said. “The idea behind that is to standardise the self-assessment questionnaire. We have the PCA data, and we’ll likely have 50,000 supplier companies in that database in 12 months’ time. We have the same in the healthcare one as well, and it’d be sad if the data wasn’t integrated.”

“That’s the other idea – what we’re also thinking of is opening up the back end for suppliers to say, here are the standardised set of questions, answer them once here, and try to develop a standard, because otherwise we’d have a siloed solution. About 80% of the questions would be generic, with 20% that are industry specific.”

By Rachel Alembakis

Publisher/Editor at The Sustainability Report

Rachel Alembakis has published The Sustainability Report since 2011. She has more than a decade of experience writing about institutional investments and pension funds for a variety of publications.