Review into trains using slave labour highlights supply chain risks

Photo provided by Queensland Government.

A recent investigation into whether Queensland’s New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains contain components sourced from slave labour factories in China highlights modern slavery risks in supply chains.

The US Government announced it had blacklisted KTK among several other manufacturers, following findings they were involved in human rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs in China (Reference ABC News).

Queensland’s Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey ordered an investigation into existing contracts, given the state government’s ongoing relationship with KTK.

Managing Director of Brisbane consultancy Critical Input Pty Ltd (CI) Tim Griffiths works with clients to improve their human rights footprint in a practical and tangible manner that aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development goals.

“These seek to address the global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity peace and justice, as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all,” Tim said.

“A critical piece of human rights legislation for Australian businesses, Australia’s Modern Slavery Act (2018) came into effect on January 1, 2019 and CI is leading the way in supporting clients to identify this issue and adapt their supply chains to reduce their modern slavery risk.

Modern slavery comprises practices such as human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, child labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and other slavery-like practices. It occurs mainly in global supply chains.

“This recent investigation is a cautionary tale and highlights the supply chain risks that can occur when comprehensive audits aren’t done,” Tim said.

“Failing to undertake this due diligence can result in reputational, financial and humanitarian costs.”

Since the legislation emerged, Critical Input’s Senior Consultant Chris Bevin has been working with clients to identify and map their supply chains as well as develop compliance procedures for the new reporting requirement, with a view to optimising supply chains to reduce their modern slavery risks.

Chris explained that the legislation highlighted how pervasive the issue is, with its Explanatory Memorandum stating: “There is a high-risk Australian business are exposed to modern slavery risks and that Australian goods and services are tainted by modern slavery…It is not expected that a reporting entity would ordinarily identify no modern slavery risks in their operations or supply chains.”

While working with clients, Chris endeavours to ensure that the focus is not only on “compliance reporting”, but includes actively looking for supply chain options that maintain client’s fiscal and operations drivers while improving sustainability and reducing modern slavery risk.

“It’s a unique opportunity to reset procurement,” Chris said.

Critical Input combines a thorough knowledge of this emerging regulatory framework with wide-ranging experience of best practice in supply chain management and business process.

It approaches each engagement on a holistic basis, alongside the client and delivers human rights management systems that address every aspect of legal, reputation and operational risk while building capability and processes within the client organisation to ensure ongoing compliance.

Earlier this year, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) published a report that named KTK Group as a company that had used forced labour of Uyghurs in at least one of its factories (Reference ABC News).

Managing Director of KTK Australia Fan Jiang has denied the allegations.

Five tips for a successful negotiation

Despite the fact micro negotiations are woven into our everyday working lives, many people feel intimated by the confrontation a more formal negotiation brings. Critical Input’s Senior Consultant and supply chain expert Mark Smith has worked on large mining contracts in both Australia and overseas for more than a decade and recommends focussing on these five simple strategies to strengthen negotiation muscle. It’s all about research, planning, process, practice and strategy.

1. Know the other party

Quite often the other party will fall back onto tactics that have worked for them in the past. Knowing their tactics is the easy part. You need to do everything possible to remove their ability to employ those tactics.

If you ever think to yourself during stalled negotiations “I knew they would do this”, you must personally take on some of that blame. If you knew it was coming, it should have been dealt with within the negotiation planning phase. Research, research, research.

2. Follow a process (and stick to it)

Wouldn’t it be great if negotiations were some organic process that naturally worked their own way to a solution, and kindly took you along for the ride?

Negotiations, when untamed and unstructured, almost always grind to a screeching halt, inflicting damage along the way. Before formal negotiations commence, time must be spent developing a negotiation plan. These plans outline every little issue related to the negotiation and will help you achieve what you want. It sounds like common sense, right?

But some people, typically those with very few negotiation scars, see this planning stage as unnecessary or over the top… “We know what we want, let’s just bring them in and have a chat”. The relatively small amount of time spent developing negotiation plans and processes always pays off multiple times over.

They save time a LOT of time. It’s naive to think any negotiation will run smoothly without a formal process. Plan, plan, plan.

3. Maintain focus within your negotiation team

There are often are two negotiations happening at once – one with your opposition, and one with your internal negotiation team and stakeholders. The majority of your time should be spent on the latter.

Professionalism and a unified focus must always be displayed by your team. Your team would have helped you develop the negotiation plan. Now you must ensure the team follows it. I’m sure we have all been in one of those meetings where your own colleagues start contradicting or disagreeing amongst themselves, in front of a client/contractor. It’s definitely not a good look.

Your team members should be entering into a negotiation meeting knowing full well what the common goal is, what to do when certain issues are brought up, and the inclusions and limitations of their roles. If you invest the time managing and focusing your team beforehand, you’ll spend less time trying to steer your negotiations back on track. Practice, practice practice.

4. Know the content (back to front)

It’s important to list out every possible option or issue that may be raised during the negotiation and understand the effects of it. Crunch the numbers and know them well. Be in a position to refute claims made against you because you know all the details behind it, rather than saying, “I’ll have to look into that and get back to you”.

Understanding the content also allows you to drive the negotiations in your desired direction. If your opponent is suggesting an option that you know is less than ideal, you have the ability to nip it in the bud and move away from the suggestion immediately.  

5. Avoid negotiating from a position of weakness

Negotiating, when you have little to no bargaining power, isn’t fun. You don’t want to be the hares in that Aesop’s fable who argued to the assembly that all should be equal. There will always be the lion’s to reply, “Your words are good, but they lack the claws and teeth such as we have”. It’s important to pre-empt future negotiations and always ensure both parties have skin in the game.

Successful negotiators will always set themselves up for the future. Let’s assume a contractor is trying to win a five-year service contract, and negotiations are stalling. You might hear them suggest, “Well it seems we can’t agree on everything here, why don’t we just agree to the first two years now, then sort out the remaining three years later on when we have more information”.

Quite often the false sense of achievement (the idea that the current negotiations can be closed out) clouds judgment and sets you up for failure in the future. Remember, it might not be you who does the next round of negotiations – you don’t want to garner a reputation for lobbing hospital passes! 

CRITICAL Input uses a number of tools in its kit of service offerings. Target-focused and planned negotiation processes are just one of CI’s many tools. We employ them regularly for our clients and on various projects.

The future of energy

There’s no Planet B. Taking care of the earth is everybody and every business’ responsibility. Increasingly, customers are wanting to know more about how sustainability values are upheld across the entire supply chain network.

While we’re still reliant on fossil fuels, already, many mining companies are looking to blend these with alternative energy sources including hydro, wave, tidal, solar (photovoltaic/thermal), wind, geothermal and others.

In Canada, Rio Tinto’s aluminum operations are hydro-powered, giving their aluminum a greener rating and making it sought after by companies like Apple.

Alternative energy industries are more mature overseas, but are rapidly developing within Australia.

If we’re going to build a sustainable and vibrant community in the future, every business needs to analyse and invest in its sustainability capability.

Talk to Critical Input about how we can provide:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Expertise to progress your sustainability journey (including supporting projects through the study, early launch and construction phases to final close-out).

Support for new projects

Just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Critical Input’s expert team is unafraid of new territory. Our grounded principals pertaining to people and process can provide the bridge to reach green energy goals.

We can provide:

  • Capability assessments
  • Feasibility and study support
  • Project execution planning and strategies
  • Contract, procurement, organisational and change management and stakeholder support.

Whether it’s managing a project from launch to completion, being there with expertise to seamlessly manage green energy infrastructure, or providing pressure relief during peak periods, Critical Input has the resources to assist.

We have tried and proven capability in:

  • Project investigation phases (geophysical investigations and feasibility assessments)
  • Requirement/interface management between design teams (from concept to final design)
  • Supply chain management (market nurturing, offshore procurement and logistics, mobilisation to management of execution)
  • Construction management (daily, weekly, monthly installation planning)
  • Stakeholder engagement and management (landowners, authorities, community groups).

Critical Input’s resident renewable energy specialist Tom Whiting

Our resident renewable energy specialist Tom Whiting has been part of the industry since 2002, developing, planning and constructing offshore wind turbine projects across the United Kingdom and Europe.

Tom has a comprehensive understanding of project and portfolio management within the renewable energy space and specialises in large infrastructure and resource projects. He’s worked as a project professional in Australia and overseas for 15 years and is a master of internal and external stakeholder engagement.

His background in global energy, coupled with his experience in the emerging alternative energy sector have made him an expert when it comes to planning, sourcing and executing multi-billion-dollar projects in rapidly changing green energy industries with challenging environments.

Tom is a firm believer that people, not balance sheets, build projects and that success comes from having the right team and tools for the job.

He holds an MBA from Durham Business School, is a Project Management Institute-certified Project Management Professional and is the first Australian to become an accredited NEC4 Engineering and Construction Contract (ECC) Project Manager.

How Critical Input is different

Unlike traditional recruitment firms, we don’t simply place a worker. Critical Input is an agile, modern workplace. We only put forward experts in the field. Our extensive database of resources provides us with access to a diverse range of skillsets across a large geographical area. We already work with great people who we know and trust and we’re committed to their wellbeing and professional development. Even when working client-side, our team members have access to our support, systems and senior advice. This ensures you’re getting high quality self-starters who can roll up their sleeves and get the job done without down time.

Building our capability

Every now and again, we get asked to explain what it is we do, so I thought I’d put together a summary of our core services.

Simply put, Critical Input is a business and process improvement consultancy.

We help our clients to improve their end-to-end supply chain processes through process improvement strategies, project management and staffing resources.

We’re experts in supply chainproject managementpeople and process.

1. Supply Chain: Critical Input works across the end-to-end supply chain, delivering sustainable results with our proven change-management approach.

CI offers a wide range of ‘hands-on’ services, from supply chain planning support to expert project management, contract delivery and strategic procurement. We apply our proven change-management approach across your end-to-end supply chain to ensure sustainable results. This includes:

  • Supply chain management
  • Strategies
  • Procurement
  • Contracting
  • Category management
  • Contract management
  • Contract administration
  • Inventory and materials management
  • Warehousing and logistics.

We work with our clients to develop and design optimal supply chain structures and frameworks that minimise their costs and capital outlay. By aligning the supply chain to business strategy our clients, their customers and stakeholders receive maximum value from their investment.

Our expert team brings knowledge and practical experience in a variety of areas, from supply chain planning support to project management. We become part of our client’s team and work with them in an on-going capacity to deliver the business outcomes they need.

Detailed negotiation planning and execution are part of CI’s specialist support service. We have extensive experience with global contracting processes and large contract negotiations of more than US$500 million.

We assess, enhance and develop best practice end-to-end supply chain plans that synchronise our clients’ people, planning and systems to ensure the best possible results. 

2. Project Management: We work collaboratively with our clients to ensure the new and enhanced capabilities are fit-for-purpose and tailored to the context, maturity and requirements of their organisation.

Project management is a team effort. We ensure our clients’ new and enhanced capabilities are fit-for-purpose and tailored to meet their unique needs. CI’s change management expertise ensures new systems are easy to sustain. Our capability-building services are supported by:

Strategic planning for P3M capability building programs, including:

  • Current and future state analysis
  • Development of supporting processes, procedures and templates.

Building P3M capability

We design, develop and deploy new or enhanced enterprise-wide or function/program specific capabilities, including:

  • Portfolio, program and project management methods and frameworks Project, program and portfolio management offices (P3Os/PMOs)
  • Program and project controls
  • Governance, including project gating and assurance.

Project reviews

Programs and projects are optimised for success and timely delivery.

  • Project health check: objective and independent review to identify actionable recommendations
  • Set-up for success: ensures all critical resourcing, planning, analysis and governance aspects are appropriately placed
  • Post-implementation review: independent and scalable review to assess the project’s success. It captures lessons learnt, provides benefit realisation and actionable outcomes to assist future projects
  • Assurance: ongoing review of the effectiveness of key portfolio, program or project management practices.

Project and program delivery

  • Set-up project, program or portfolio delivery for success
  • Define and align project and program initiative/s with strategic objectives
  • Establish and support appropriate structures for decision-making Manage the execution of project or programs. 

3. People: CI can provide skilled resources as backfill, for outsourcing purposes or as additional support.

Our highly skilled personnel include:

  • Supply chain managers
  • Procurement and contracts managers
  • Purchasing and contracts officers
  • Category managers
  • Category specialists/advisors
  • Logistics managers
  • Logistics officers
  • Warehousing and inventory personnel
  • Project directors
  • Project and construction managers
  • Project controls personnel
  • Contract administrators
  • Document controllers
  • Project administrators.

These resources can be engaged as consultants for project work, labour hire for role backfill or longer-term engagements as project or full-time employees.

Our extensive database of resources provides us with access to a diverse range of skillsets across a large geographical area. 

4. Process: CI works with our clients to help understand, communicate and improve their processes.

Our services include:

Business process improvement: We formulate strategy for the structure, documentation and governance of business processes, including:

  • Process mapping, process analysis, process redesign and process standardisation
  • Identifying obstacles and required outcomes
  • Future process definition
  • Managing and support the change process, including development of documentation, processes and frameworks as required.

Organisational redesign and operational improvement: we work with clients to align strategic priorities and other growth areas, to reduce costs, and improve decision making and accountability

Root cause analysis/incident process reviews: we review business processes, gap and failure analysis.

Documentation: we produce business documentation for “As Is”, or “To Be” process, policy and procedures.

Governance: we devise methods to measure performance and compliance and the required corrective and improvement actions 


At the centre of everything Critical Input does are three principles: process, because without process, there is no destination; people, because without buy-in, there is no evolution; and principles – because integrity is everything.