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Accounting for modern slavery, employees and work conditions in business

Special issue call for papers from Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

Guest Editors:

Dr Katherine Christ, University of South Australia Business School
Professor Dr Roger Burritt, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University
Professor Dr Stefan Schaltegger, Centre for Sustainability Management, Leuphana University


In recent years there has been much interest in developments that encourage business organisations to operate in a more sustainable manner. It would appear that many societal, political and economic actors are working for the days when exploiting social capital and the natural environment in the name of economic gain come to an end. The challenge associated with balancing the three perspectives of sustainability (the social, the environmental and the economic) is huge and accounting academics have played an important role developing tools, highlighting the business case for sustainable action and seeking to understand current practice. However, to date most efforts in this area have been concerned with the environmental and economic aspects of sustainability while neglecting the social. In some ways this is understandable as it can be argued that society is embedded in ecosystems and that environmental issues such as carbon and water are easier to measure and report. Nonetheless, recent developments including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are giving the social aspects of sustainability a prominent place on the corporate agenda (Bebbington and Unerman, 2018 forthcoming; Kolk, 2016). As a result issues such as modern slavery in corporate supply chains, human rights, employees and work conditions are now unable to be ignored.

Instances of unacceptable working conditions such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013 when 1,100 people were killed leave an indelible mark (Siddiqui and Uddin, 2016). The preponderance over time of slavery-related working conditions including forced labour, debt-bondage, child labour, wage exploitation, human trafficking, etc., shocking as they are, do not seem to be in decline in spite of increased CSR activities and good political intentions. Public outcry has permeated the halls of government with Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the USA amongst others introducing legislation to combat practices where victims are coerced to engage in unreasonable work through physical or mental threat. For instance, working conditions also include ongoing debates concerning more extreme negative social issues of working for corporations (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). These include conflict minerals and related human rights issues, child labour, migration and refugees being employed as blackmarket workers, the need to account for institutional pressure to address trafficking, and the invisibilities of zero hours contracting and sub-contracting, etc.

Improving modern slavery, employees and work conditions in business also takes place in the context of female employees being trapped in the downside of salary differentials relative to men; high unemployment, underemployment and lack of opportunity for decent work for the vulnerable and Indigenous. Also the need for adoption and championing of strategic and practical progress into improved protection of modern slaves by a union movement in decline.

Adaptation through reporting and transparency is currently the favoured approach for dealing with issues relating to modern slavery, employees and work conditions. As a result each of the policies, standards, guidelines and further approaches addressing social issues will impact the work undertaken by accountants in business and public practice. Nevertheless, from a sustainability perspective, trying to account for and improve social performance of business in a proactive way is even more important. Although accounting academics could offer a contribution in this space existing research that considers the social aspects of sustainability – and in particular modern slavery and work conditions – is conspicuous by its absence.

While improving reporting transparency provides a good starting point for building awareness about modern slavery issues it is only a first step in transforming the accounting landscape and addressing the challenging future. 

What is the purpose of the special issue?:

The purpose of this AAAJ Special Issue is to provide a catalyst highlighting and encouraging research in this area of crucial importance to both business and society.

Papers are welcome that address any number of aspects of accounting, auditing and accountability for modern slavery, employees and work conditions in business whether related to: private or public sectors; large or small businesses; national or multinational organizations; internal management, external accountability and assurance issues. Modern slavery, employees and work conditions in business, the subject of this Call for Papers, is a vital and under-researched issue in need of contributions from a wide variety of perspectives.

Suggestions as to the accounting approaches relevant to the AAAJ Special Issue include:

  • Submissions from all research genres addressing exploration or examination of accounting for modern slavery - forced labour, trafficking, child labour, etc. in different legal systems, cultures, jurisdictions and corporate forms:
  • basic or applied; disciplinary, interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary; empirical or case based; predictive; interpretive ; emancipatory; deconstructive; and, especially, transdisciplinary
  • Papers which build understanding and development of accounting, reporting or assurance aspects of regulations such as the Californian Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010;  UK. Modern Slavery Act 2015; French Corporate Duty of Vigilance law 2017; the Netherlands Child Labour Due Diligence Act 2017; and proposed Australian Global Supply Chains Reporting requirements 2017
  • Indicative topics which form the focus of issues for which an account is to be considered, audited and disclosed and which need to be accounted for include:
  • current approaches to reporting on and managing the prevalence of modern slavery in global supply chains
  • occupational health and safety standards and its link with accounting and reporting’ (e.g., ISO 45001)
  • gender issues relating to employment and work conditions and associated reporting practice (e.g. the Workplace Gender Equality Agency requirements in Australia) and how this links to practice
  • the accounting and management aspects of contracting and sub-contracting and how these link to slavery and work conditions
  • cultural issues relating to work conditions in global supply chains
  • Indigenous links with modern slavery
  • the role of unions and their influence on accounting and reporting for employees and work conditions
  • work conditions in country, industry and company studies

Presenting your paper at a conference or workshop

Although submitted papers do not need to have been presented at a workshop or conference opportunities are being negotiated to present your ideas ahead of formal submission. These might include: the European Accounting Association (EAA) Annual Congress, Milan, Italy 30 May – 1 June 2018 (; the 22nd EMAN Conference “Social responsibility and sustainability accounting – Key corporate performance drivers and measures” in Galati, Romania 21-22 June 2018 (; and the 2018 EMAN-AP conference “Global supply chain, corporate social responsibility and sustainability management - strategies and the use of Sustainability Accounting”, anticipated to be held in Bangkok in July 2018 (

Submissions and Schedule

  • We initially invite pre-submission synopses of papers (about 2,000 words) by 30 September 2018 to [email protected]. Authors of papers selected for presentation will be invited to join one of the Conferences/ Fora.
  • Papers to be submitted to Emerald by 30 November 2019 using
  • Publication date 2020


Commonwealth of Australia, 2017. Modern slavery and global supply chains. Interim report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade's inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, Canberra, Australia.
Kolk, A., 2016. The social responsibility of international business: From ethics and the environment to CSR and sustainable development. Journal of World Business, 51(1), pp.23-34.
Siddiqui, J. and Uddin, S., 2016. Human rights disasters, corporate accountability and the state: Lessons learned from Rana Plaza. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 29(4), pp.679-704.
Possibilities for future research, see: Bebbington, J. and Unerman, J. (2018), “Achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: an enabling role for accounting research”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, forthcoming, DOI: 10.1108/AAAJ-05-2017-2929.

Other published issues to refer to

This Call for Papers on ‘Accounting for modern slavery, employees and work conditions in business’ is complemented by earlier AAAJ Special Issues:

  • Deegan, C., 2002. Social and environmental reporting and its role in maintaining or creating organizational legitimacy
  • McPhail, K. and Adams, C.A., 2016. Corporate respect for human rights: meaning, scope, and the shifting order of discourse. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 29(4), pp.650-678.