Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Fiona McGaughey, Lecturer, Law School, University of Western Australia
Modern Slavery Bill a step in the right direction – now businesses must comply

This week has seen a significant milestone in the fight against modern slavery as the Modern Slavery Bill was introduced into the Australian parliament. When passed, the law will require companies with an annual turnover of more than $100 million to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, and on the actions to address these.

The bill follows a parliamentary inquiry last year. As the UK had introduced a Modern Slavery Act in 2015, the parliamentary inquiry was specifically tasked with considering whether Australia should introduce comparable legislation. The bill also follows the NSW Modern Slavery Act which was passed on June 21, 2018.

Read more: Should Australia have a Modern Slavery Act?

Australia has benefited from the lessons learned in the UK. The bill has addressed some of the shortcomings from the UK Act by including reporting obligations for Commonwealth entities, and a legislated and government-funded repository for the modern slavery statements.

The lack of a central government repository for statements was felt to be a weakness of the UK legislation, although one is now managed by an NGO. According to the Australian bill, statements will be kept in an online repository that may be accessed by the public.

What is modern slavery?

There is often debate about what “modern slavery” actually means. The definition given in the bill is “conduct which would constitute” an offence under Division 270 or 271 of the Criminal Code. This covers offences such as slavery, servitude, forced labour, deceptive recruiting, trafficking in persons, debt bondage, forced marriage and organ trafficking.

The definition also includes trafficking in persons, as defined in the international Trafficking Protocol and the worst forms of child labour.

Around the world, it is estimated there are almost 25 million people in forced labour, working to produce goods or services for consumers like us. Long after Australia officially abolished slavery, the practice continues here and the Global Slavery Index estimates there are approximately 4,300 people trapped in modern slavery in Australia.

Slavery in the Southeast Asian fishing industries (the top suppliers of shellfish to Australian supermarkets); the harsh working conditions of construction workers in Qatar; and closer to home, the underpayment of Australian workers employed by companies like 7-Eleven, Dominos and Pizza Hut are indicative of the oppressive working conditions that may amount to modern slavery.

What will companies need to do?

It is estimated more than 3,000 companies will have to report on modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains, and the action they have taken to tackle these. Depending on the speed of the passage of the legislation, the first reports could be due by January 1, 2019. Businesses with revenue of less than $100 million can opt to report voluntarily.

The statements must describe the structure, operations and supply chains of the company, the risks of modern slavery practices in the operations and supply chains, and any entities the business owns or controls.

They must also describe the actions taken by the company and any entity it owns or controls, to assess and address the risks.

What are the bill’s shortcomings?

The bill is a welcome step forward but does fall short in a few key areas. The first is there are no penalties for companies that fail to report. This means enforcement is effectively left to NGOs which could use the public repository to “name and shame” companies, and to shareholders or investors who could put pressure on the companies to comply with their reporting obligations.

The second shortcoming is that unlike the UK, there is no provision for an anti-slavery commissioner who might otherwise help enforce the law. This raises questions about the efficacy of the “mandatory” scheme, which has no consequences for a failure to report. By contrast, the NSW Modern Slavery Act includes both provision for financial penalties for a failure to report and for the appointment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

Read more: Taking on modern slavery and the challenge of making it history

Academics and NGOs have also stressed that although businesses are essential in identifying and tackling modern slavery, existing laws could be used more effectively to regulate workplaces and report on and prosecute cases of slavery and trafficking.

What are the international trends in this area?

Australia is not alone in proposing such laws. Business reporting on human rights is a growing trend, with a number of jurisdictions having introduced reporting or due diligence requirements in recent years. Some Australian companies already report under the UK Act.

In addition, comparable laws have been introduced across the European Union and in some states and sectors in the United States. Denmark has laws requiring corporate social responsibility reporting, and in Brazil, there is a “dirty list” enabling public shaming of businesses using forced labour.

In 2017, the French parliament introduced a new due diligence law on human rights and the environment for businesses. Other European countries are also in the process of developing comparable laws, such as the Netherlands’ child labour due diligence laws.

What happens next?

If the Modern Slavery Bill passes, it will be a significant step for Australia in reconciling the need for business to operate in a manner that ensures respect for workers’ basic human rights.

This is an opportunity for organisations to take their reporting obligations seriously. This means publishing reports that are the result of significant due diligence efforts that identify, track and monitor potential problems in their operations and supply chain.

While the bill is significant, it is also not as strong as it should be, and the government must follow through with its promise to review its impact in three years.

Authors: Fiona McGaughey, Lecturer, Law School, University of Western Australia

Read more http://theconversation.com/modern-slavery-bill-a-step-in-the-right-direction-now-businesses-must-comply-99135

Writers Wanted

NZ election 2020: 5 experts on the final debate and the campaign's winners and losers ahead of the big decision

arrow_forward

Meet North Queensland First, the party that wants to kill crocs and form a new state

arrow_forward

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

If you operate your business in a neighbourhood or city that is not known for being a safe environment, it is not surprising if you often worry about the safety of your business establishments o...

News Co - avatar News Co

Expert Tips on How to Create a Digital Product to Sell on Your Blog

As the managing director of a growing talent agency, I use the company blog to not only promote my business but as a way to establish ourselves as an authority in our industry. You see, blogs a...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

How to Find A company with Tijuana manufacturing

If you have decided to launch a business in Tijuana, there is a need to know about the manufacturing companies. The decision to choose a manufacturing company is not so easy as it looks.   The rig...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion