Australia looking at anti-slavery legislation

Australian companies may soon have to report on the steps they have taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not occurring in their supply chains or other parts of their businesses.

Last month, the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee of the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade announced it had begun an inquiry into whether Australia should adopt national legislation to combat modern slavery, comparable to the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 (MSA).

As Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee chair Chris Crewther noted, modern slavery continues to affect millions of people around the world, including in Australia.

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 45.8 million people around the world are in some form of modern slavery. That's almost twice the population of Australia being exploited through human trafficking, forced labour, wage exploitation, forced marriage and debt bondage. Those countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.

The MSA, which came into force in October 2015, requires companies with an annual turnover of £36 million (A$58 million) or more to report each financial year on the steps they have taken to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place in any part of their business or supply chains.

It is based on the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010 (CTSCA) which affects companies with US$100 million (A$132 million) annual revenues or more. But it goes further.

The MSA also applies extraterritorially, including to large Australian companies doing business in the UK. And, it affects all commercial organisations in the UK rather than just retail sellers and manufacturers as the CTSCA does.

Referencing a previous report, Trading Lives: Modern Day Human Trafficking, the Joint Standing Committee has been charged to take the following into account in its inquiry:

  • The nature and extent of modern slavery 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 UK’s legislation which have proven effective in addressing modern slavery, and whether similar or improved measures should be introduced in Australia.
  • Whether a Modern Slavery Act should be introduced in Australia; and
  • Any other related matters.

Submissions to the inquiry should be lodged by 28 April 2017.

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