Specialist in Asia Pacific, Japan, China, India and South East Asia and Global Emerging Market equities.

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Stewart Investors manage investment portfolios on behalf of our clients over the long term and have held shares in some companies for over 20 years. They launched their first investment strategy in 1988.

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Human rights and modern slavery

Human rights and modern slavery

Why should it matter to investors?

Modern slavery 1 is one of the most pressing human rights issues that investors can and should take action on. The International Labour Organization has estimated that there are over 40 million victims of modern slavery2. Women and girls account for 71 per cent of modern slavery victims, while one in four victims are children.

Slavery impedes development in general. It reduces productivity and innovation, and encourages bribery and corruption.

Workers coerced into jobs will seek to leave if they can. If they cannot, productivity levels are likely to drop. They also have no reason to innovate knowing that they will not enjoy the fruits of such innovation. Furthermore, companies who use slavery often

disincentivise innovation fearing their exploitative practices will become harder if worker’s skill levels increase. Slavers on the other hand, would bribe and corrupt officials to protect the slavery system.

However, investors, regulators and businesses have an obligation to address modern slavery risks as a key aspect of their social responsibility too. Modern slavery and exploitation of labour is a pervasive part of global supply chains. Investors may be connected to several thousand companies through their investment portfolios, and those companies in turn may be connected to many more in supply chains. 

What is First Sentier Investors doing? 

Our approach focuses on human rights risks within the supply chain, in particular modern slavery and other forms of labour exploitation. It is where we see the greatest opportunity to have an impact within the current regulatory environment, and it can also be the starting point for identifying other human rights issues.

The Modern Slavery Toolkit, developed by First Sentier Investors’ Modern Slavery Investor Working Group in 2020, continues to be the key framework used by investment teams to identify and address modern slavery risks within their investment portfolios. At the beginning of 2021 the working group met to review the qualitative and quantitative metrics collected on the effectiveness of our approach in 2020, adjust our strategy for 2021 accordingly, and identify areas for collaboration amongst investment teams.

During the year we launched Modern Slavery portfolio analytics, which pull together a range of data sources to help teams visualise modern slavery risks at a portfolio level, and then drill down to different risks.

Individual company engagements increased significantly throughout 2021, however we also engaged at industry level, through our involvement in Investors Against Slavery and Trafficking (IAST) APAC, an investor initiative to promote effective action by companies to find, fix and prevent modern slavery, labour exploitation and human trafficking across the value chain. IAST APAC is convened and chaired by First Sentier Investors. 

In 2021, IAST APAC launched a collaborative engagement with 22 companies from four sectors – Consumer Discretionary, Consumer Staples, Technology, and Healthcare across Asia. 

For further information on the respective team’s progress on human rights and modern slavery, read our Responsible Investment Report 2021.


Reporting on progress

The country map, taken from our Modern Slavery Portfolio Analytics tool, shows the levels of modern slavery risk across various countries where we invest in listed equities and corporate fixed income. The size of the bubble relates to our exposure to companies across these asset classes (expressed as percentages in the labels), and the colour of the bubble relates to modern slavery risk (darker green = higher risk). This data is taken from the Global Slavery Index 2018. As you can see from the map, our greatest risks are concentrated in Asia, hence why we decided to focus on this region as part of the IAST APAC initiative.

Source: First Sentier Investors, Walk Free Portfolio holdings data as at 31 December 2020


In jurisdictions where modern slavery legislation exists (such as the UK and Australia) we are seeing more investee companies uncover instances of modern slavery. Whilst this is not a positive development in itself, we see it as a good sign that a company is genuinely looking for the issue. It puts the company in a position to provide or enable a remedy to the victim(s) and to put preventative measures in place to avoid further incidents.

These topics are already addressed in our Modern Slavery Toolkit, however, we have identified it as an area which requires further training, as there are complexities involved in how investors can enable a remedy, and what reasonable preventative measures look like.

In developing markets where supply chains are complex and labour standards are lower, we face different issues. Raising awareness is often the first step in addressing this important topic.

Future plans

To address the challenges raised above, we intend to focus on remedies and preventative measures as part of our annual training on modern slavery risks.

We will also update our risk assessments following the release of Walk Free’s updated Global Slavery Index in 2022, and look forward to participating in the review of the Australian Modern Slavery Act.

As we identify more leading practices and collect additional data and case studies to assess the effectiveness of our own approach, we will update our Modern Slavery Toolkit and guidance to ensure continuous improvement in this important area.


First Sentier Investors has developed a Human Rights Toolkit to help all investment teams globally better manage human rights risks in our portfolios. The toolkit provides research and guidance for each of the following steps:

  • Identifying companies with a risk of human rights in their operations or supply chains
  • Assessing companies’ approach to the issues identified
  • Engaging with the companies identified as at risk of human rights violations.
  • Internal reporting on our progress

This has formed the basis of our approach to addressing human rights risks within our investment portfolios, which we are required to report on in accordance with legislation in Australia.

Download our latest Modern Slavery Statement.


  1. Modern slavery includes crimes such as forced labour, debt bondage, human trafficking, child labour and forced marriage and disproportionately affects vulnerable communities. 
  2. International Labor Organization, 2016

Responsible investment report

Read our latest annual Responsible Investment Report

Download full report