Special Issue: Modern slavery and the accounting profession
Modern slavery issues are gaining greater prominence for contemporary organisations, largely because of increasing public pressure, stakeholder expectations and legislation. Such issues in the field of accounting are directly related to the need for research into the development of awareness, management, communication and accountability processes which includes, but is not limited to, assurance and credibility of disclosures. Concentrated research attention is needed if modern slavery is to be eliminated by 2030 as targeted through the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. While such need has already been acknowledged in management and sociology research (see Stevenson and Cole, 2018; Patterson & Zhuo, 2018; Cooke, 2003; Crane, 2013. Bales & Soodalter, 2009) academics need to come forward to address some of the burning modern slavery research issues facing the accounting discipline. The identification and emergence into public perception of modern slavery as a key issue presents a challenge for the three pillars of the accounting profession: practitioners in business and in firms providing accounting services, the professional bodies and academics. The role of the accounting profession in modern slavery needs to be investigated from constructive as well as critical perspectives.
Regulators, at both global and local levels, are now engaging with corporate disclosure to highlight the extent to which modern slavery exists and to reveal the extent of corporate efforts to identify and fight it, especially in global supply chains. Examples of disclosure-based regulation to emerge in recent years include the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act, Dodd-Frank Act’s conflict minerals rule in the US, the UK Modern Slavery Act, the Modern Slavery Act (NSW) and a proposed Australian Modern Slavery Act. As a result, contemporary organisations face the challenge of developing solutions to deal with the complexity of integrating organisational economic and social performance associated with the identification and avoidance of modern slavery. The new wave of modern slavery legislation requires large firms to manage and disclose actions undertaken to address modern slavery in their direct operations and supply chains (Islam & van Staden, 2018). Small and medium sized entities as suppliers of goods and services may also find management of modern slavery to be a consideration, or requirement, for establishing and continuing sales to downstream entities.
Modern slavery could impact on the accounting profession in several ways including:
Management accountants in business need to build up their modern slavery management accounting practices, including developing strategy, planning and control of investments and operations, benchmarking modern slavery practices, developing real time monitoring and key performance indicators.
Current and future professional practitioners need education and training about modern slavery requirements and how organisations might move beyond regulation in order to secure a competitive advantage.
Educational institutions need to up skill their staff and change their curricula to develop an appropriate educational platform on modern slavery requirements and the international and local contexts which are likely to guide future changes.
Partners in accounting firms need to familiarise themselves with the needs of corporate clients who are directly (e.g. companies above the threshold for reporting) and indirectly (e.g. companies below the threshold for reporting but located in the supply chains of required reporters) affected by modern slavery legislation.
Professional accounting bodies need to support their members, within the bounds of the public interest, with professional development and lobbying activities on modern slavery.
Assurance providers can engage in the strategic process of their corporate client’s modern slavery disclosure production to affect transparency (Christ, Burritt & Rao, 2017), policy guideline advice to minimise risk from non- transparency (Christ et al., 2017), and challenges to both internal and external auditing (Islam, 2018).
Finally, given the structure of corporate governance, chief executive officers, accountants, and finance directors have a role to influence corporate boards in resource allocation and investment. Such a role is crucial if socially responsible investment is targeted, or if general investment is to be humane and ethical. The broader board level decision making process for controlling modern slavery needs to be considered (Radeke & Coles, 2018).
The call for this Special Issue covers, but is not limited to, the following topics:
- Accounting, its contribution to our understandings of economic performance, and the impetus to perpetuate slavery.
- Modern slavery and conflicting interests - the moral and commercial implications for organisation of fair wages, working conditions and exploitation in the developing and developed world.
- The role of the accounting profession in striving towards elimination of modern slavery in global supply chains
- Modern slavery and the profession’s role in management, responsibility and accountability
- Management accountants and control of modern slavery in organisations
- Modern slavery accounting benchmarking processes and standards
- Opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution for modern slavery accounting and/or auditing e,g. blockchain
- Practitioner engagement in production and communication of modern slavery statements and other related disclosures
- Transdisciplinary challenges and accounting for modern slavery
- The potential contribution of accounting education and training to eliminating modern slavery
- The role of professional associations in accounting for modern slavery
- Modern slavery assurance and audit - internal and external audit of corporate management practices and disclosures on modern slavery
- National and international institutional influences on accounting and modern slavery