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Inquiry into the establishment of a Modern Slavery Act in Australia

1. What is this inquiry about?

2. Why establish a Modern Slavery Act in Australia?

3. Which businesses, investors and civil society organisations are supporting the establishment of an Act?

4. How can I make a submission?

5. What elements should a Modern Slavery Act in Australia include?

6. Where can I learn more? Events and webinars

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1. What is this inquiry about?

On 15 February 2017, the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, asked the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade ("the Committee") of the Parliament of Australia to inquire into and report on establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

The Committee shall examine whether Australia should adopt a Modern Slavery Act. The Committee shall have particular regard to:

  • The nature and extent of modern slavery (including slavery, forced labour and wage exploitation, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced marriage and other slavery-like exploitation) both in Australia and globally;

  • The prevalence of modern slavery in the domestic and global supply chains of companies, businesses and organisations operating in Australia;

  • Identifying international best practice employed by governments, companies, businesses and organisations to prevent modern slavery in domestic and global supply chains, with a view to strengthening Australian legislation;

  • The implications for Australia’s visa regime, and conformity with the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children regarding federal compensation for victims of modern slavery;

  • Provisions in the United Kingdom’s legislation which have proven effective in addressing modern slavery, and whether similar or improved measures should be introduced in Australia; and

  • Whether a Modern Slavery Act should be introduced in Australia

For further information, please see this press release.

2. Why establish a Modern Slavery Act in Australia?

The Global Slavery Index of Walk Free Foundation estimates there are about 4,300 slaves in Australia. The US Department of State notes that some migrant workers from Asia and several Pacific Islands, recruited to work temporarily in Australia in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic service were found to be in forced labour. Further, Australian companies may be implicated in using forced labour in their supply chains through sourcing goods and services domestically and internationally. Some Australian business are speaking out about discovering modern slavery in their supply chains.

By introducing an Australian Modern Slavery Act, the Australian Government has an opportunity to show leadership domestically and in the region to protect victims and eradicate modern slavery. An Australian Modern Slavery Act is needed to complement and build on existing voluntary initiatives, laws and international standards, in order to address unregulated gaps in global markets and harness the power of business.

Further, an Australian Modern Slavery Act would create a level playing field for companies, and improve the level of corporate disclosure to the benefit of stakeholders including civil society, investors, consumers, academia and business itself. The Modern Slavery Act in the UK has demonstrated it can create change, by elevating modern slavery as an issue discussed mostly by ethical sourcing staff, ethical consumers and investors, to a priority issue discussed by average consumers, mainstream investors, both buyers and suppliers and, crucially, senior corporate management. Companies reported to Business & Human Rights Resource Centre that the Act empowers internal advocates within companies, enabling them to both internally through access to senior management, as well as externally with ammunition to have conversations with and enforce standards at suppliers.

The UK Act also significantly increased transparency. While many of the over 2000 statements on the UK Modern Slavery Act Registry are patchy, never before have so many companies made at least some information available on what their business structures and supply chains look like, and how they undertake due diligence.

But, most importantly, the Act is driving action. Statements show that a number of a number of companies are developing or revising existing policies and due diligence processes to address modern slavery, such as risk assessments, staff training, or supplier contracts. In fact, a report by the Ethical Trading Initiative and Hult International Business School found that in the year since the UK Act came into force, CEO engagement with modern slavery has doubled, companies are collaborating more with peers, NGOs and multi-stakeholder initiatives, and business-to-business communication and pressure has increased significantly. 

Sources:

3. Which businesses, investors and civil society organisations are supporting the establishment of a Modern Slavery Act in Australia?

All full list of all public submissions into the inquiry can be found here.

 Business support:

Investor support:

Civil society submissions:

Academia submissions:

Government and political party support:

Trade union submissions:

Additional stakeholder submissions: 

Further resources:

4. How can I make a submission? 

The domestic deadline for interested persons and organisations in Australia to make online submissions addressing the terms of reference has now passed (Friday, 28 April 2017). Submissions from overseas governments, organisations and individuals closed on Friday, 19 May 2017, although extensions may be available upon request. Further guidance on how to make a submission is available here

5. What elements should a Modern Slavery Act in Australia include?

Submissions by civil society organisations and groups are likely to include a broad range of recommendations on potential modern slavery legislation in Australia, including proposals for strengthening the model provided by the UK Modern Slavery Act.

Initial statements by some Australian civil society groups including Walk Free Foundation and The Salvation Army Freedom Partnership have identified three major governance gaps, which a Modern Slavery Act should address:

  1. Anti-Slavery Commissioner - appointment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner to provide independent oversight, with powers to monitor laws and hold business and the Government accountable.
  2. Modern Slavery Statements - requirement for certain organisations doing business in Australia to annually report on steps taken to eradicate modernslavery within their organisation and supply chains.
  3. Central Repository - creation and maintenance of a publicly accessible repository of all modern slavery statements filed each year.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) published recommendations on how legislators can build on the UK Modern Slavery Act, build around three key areas:

  1.  Supply Chain Transparency
  2.  Extraterritoriality
  3.  Due Diligence and Civil Remedies for Supply Chain Violations

The Advisory Committee of the Modern Slavery Registry (Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Humanity United, Freedom Fund, Anti-Slavery International, Ethical Trading Initiative, Unicef UK, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), Freedom United, CORE Coalition) has put forward recommendations to improve on the transparency in supply chains provision of the UK Modern Slavery Act: 

  • introduce a central registry maintained by the government,
  • introduce a publicly available list of companies required to report,
  • require mandatory due diligence and disclosure,
  • include public procurement incentives,
  • strengthen monitoring and enforcement by government, including sanctions and
  • strengthen access to remedy for victims.

Resources:

6. Where can I learn more? Events and webinars

Upcoming events and webinars:

Past events and webinars:

  • Event - Sydney, 27 June: 6pm to 8pm: The Law Society of NSW, Modern Slavery, what can Australia do about it? Anti-slavery panel and film event.
  • Event - Melbourne, 1 August: Public hearing of Australian Parliament's Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
  • Event - Perth, 2 August: Business Modern Slavery Act Forum organised by Walk Free Foundation and hosted by Clayton Utz.
  • Event - Melbourne, 2 August: Public hearing of Australian Parliament's Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
  • Event - Canberra, 11 August: Public hearing of Australian Parliament's Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
  • Event - Canberra, 15 August: Australia's role in the fight against modern slavery panel discussion with CEO of the Freedom Fund, Nick Grono, Senator Linda Reynolds and Shadow Minister for Justice Clare O’Neil MP on modern slavery in South and Southeast Asia, its implications for businesses and how Australia can play a leading role in ending it.
  • Event - Canberra, 16 August: Public hearing of Australian Parliament's Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.
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