New report examines slavery in clean energy sector

child slave shows dirty palms covered in soot (slavery)
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A new report by the Clean Energy Council in collaboration with Norton Rose Fulbright,Addressing Modern Slavery in the Clean Energy Sector’, highlights that despite being a minor player in a global industry, Australia has an important role in contributing to global efforts to eliminate modern slavery from clean energy supply chains.

Australia’s clean energy transition is accelerating and is an essential element in the country’s decarbonisation. However, growing evidence linking some renewable energy supply chains to modern slavery shows that the clean energy industry, together with governments and other stakeholders, must pursue strategies to help eliminate modern slavery in mineral extraction and manufacturing.

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“Australia is on a trajectory to produce the vast majority of our electricity from solar, wind, hydro and batteries by 2030, but it’s important that this shift happens in a way that is fair and equitable,” Clean Energy Council policy director of energy generation and storage Dr Nicholas Aberle said.

“As with many other modern products ubiquitous in everyday life, renewable energy technologies can have long supply chains that are linked at various points to modern slavery. 

“The points of exposure most in need of attention are the manufacture of various key components and the extraction of raw minerals where renewables are expected to become a growing share of the market.

“One of the strategies that should be explored as part of a broader approach to this issue is the potential for establishing domestic supply chain capabilities.

“Australia has significant expertise in mineral extraction, so as a nation, we can be looking at developing our capacity to extract, process and manufacture materials and components for solar panels, batteries and wind turbines.” 

Norton Rose Fulbright partner Abigail McGregor said businesses needed to implement their own strategies in response to modern slavery risks, including supply chain due diligence.  

“It is often the later tiers of a supply chain that are difficult to map, but present the greatest risk. The challenge is how to identify those risks in more than a theoretical way and work with suppliers to improve the conditions of the most vulnerable workers in supply chains,” McGregor said.

“Unfortunately, there is a lack of transparency in some existing supply chains, often linked to geopolitical challenges, which can limit the effectiveness of supply chain due diligence by individual entities. 

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“Governments should lend their support to the development of globally recognised certification programs, as well as continuing to support UN requests for unhindered audit access to areas known to be high risk.”

Responding to the report, NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner Dr James Cockayne said, “Urgent action is needed to address the severe modern slavery risks in Australian renewable energy supply chains and investments. 

“In NSW, government entities and local councils are legally required to take reasonable steps not to procure products of modern slavery. This may include some solar panels, lithium-ion batteries, wind turbines and renewable energy.

“This report is an important and welcome acknowledgment by industry of this problem and a first step towards addressing it. But we need to see industry, government, the financial sector and civil society working together to provide access to competitively costed, slavery-free renewable energy. If we don’t, modern slavery risks significantly complicating the just transition to a decarbonised economy.”

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