At last, Australia has a Modern Slavery Act. Here’s what you’ll need to know



File 20181202 194947 1tlfap1.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Soon we’ll have a much better idea of what we are buying, and companies will be shamed into sourcing products better.
Shutterstock

Paul Redmond, University of Technology Sydney

It has taken years, but after votes in the Senate and House of Representatives last week, Australia has a Modern Slavery Act.

It’ll take effect on January 1.

But what difference will it make?

First, what is modern slavery?

Britain abolished slavery on its own soil in 1833. It abolished the most egregious forms of child labour a century later.

But slavery and child labour are still being used to make the products Britons buy, just as they are being used to make the products Australians buy.




Read more:
How to keep slave-caught seafood off your plate


Increasing integrated global supply chains have made it hard to tell whether even products that are stamped “Made in Australia” have at some stage used slaves or underage children as part of the production process.

Forcibly detained adults and children work in industries including fishing, cocoa, cotton, clothing, cannabis, construction and prostitution.

The term “modern slavery” refers only to the worst forms of exploitation, and not to other serious breaches of human rights such as the denial of freedom of association or the denial of worker safety, such as at Rana Plaza clothing factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh in which more than 1,000 garment workers died when their building collapsed in 2013.




Read more:
Unravelling British wool: how the local and global are intertwined in the making of everyday products


The International Labour Organisation believes that 21 million people worldwide are forced labourers, half of them in the Asia-Pacific region.

What will be required

As with the British Act, Australia’s will require businesses and other organisations above a certain size (consolidated revenue of A$100 million) to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, and the action they have taken to assess and address those risks, and the effectiveness of their response.

Smaller businesses will be able to report voluntarily.

To ensure high-level engagement, the statement has to be approved by the board of directors or equivalent and signed by a director.




Read more:
We analysed 101 companies’ statements on modern slavery – here’s what we found


The statements will be publicly available on a central register maintained by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth government itself, and those of its entities that satisfy the reporting revenue threshold, will also have to prepare a statement.

What will not be required

Two controversial omissions are penalties and independent oversight.

The government was unwilling to impose a penalty for failing to lodge a statement or for lodging an incomplete statement.

This needn’t be fatal. The requirement and the public register means that companies that don’t report properly can be “named and shamed” by non-government organisations. Consumer pressure can itself become a sanction.




Read more:
The Modern Slavery Bill is a start, but it won’t guarantee us sweeter chocolate


The UK experience does not encourage optimism as about compliance.

In response to these concerns, Senate amendments have empowered the minister to name and shame his or herself, publicly calling out continued instances of non-compliance and reporting to parliament annually on compliance trends.

Australia’s parliamentary inquiry and a good many of the submissions strongly supported the appointment of an independent statutory anti-slavery commissioner with the authority and resources to oversee compliance.

The government will instead establish a departmental unit to help business address slavery risks and prepare statements.




Read more:
Should Australia have a Modern Slavery Act?


The Labor party supports both penalties and the appointment of an independent commissioner.

It is possible that both requirements will be in place before the first modern slavery statements are due on June 30, 2020.

NSW has also passed its own Modern Slavery Act, due to take effect after the Commonwealth Act commences. It imposes a lower revenue reporting threshold of $50 million, and provides for penalties for businesses that do not comply, of up to A$1.1 million.

It also creates the post of Independent NSW Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

What now

American baseballer Yogi Berra said that when we come to a fork in the road, we should take it. Wise advice. We have two ways forward and should take both. In truth, they converge.

First, we need to monitor compliance levels, and determine whether penalties and independent oversight are needed. And we need to set up processes that ensure the reports are of good quality.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide a guide. Happily, the Act adopts these principles.

The other path is to address the broader harm that Australian businesses can do, beyond incorporating slavery into products that are sold in Australia.




Read more:
We need to combat forced labour and in-work poverty – Brazil and India offer some lessons


The Guiding Principles help here too, outlining the responsibility of businesses to respect human rights and to provide remedies wherever they operate.

This responsibility extends to our mining companies, 200 in Africa alone, who should respect human rights whether or not slavery is incorporated in products they sell back here.

And it extends to technology companies whose platforms put people at risk such as Facebook’s possible role in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Slavery is important, but there is more to human rights than slavery.

The Act is a start, quite a good one. We will need more.The Conversation

Paul Redmond, Sir Gerard Brennan Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Should Australia have a Modern Slavery Act?



File 20170613 10220 17wat11
Businessman Andrew Forrest and his wife Nicola are strong advocates of anti-slavery measures.
AAP/Alan Porritt

Fiona McGaughey, University of Western Australia; Dave Webb, University of Western Australia, and Peta-Jane Hogg, University of Western Australia

There has been a flurry of activity recently in relation to establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. This has included a parliamentary inquiry and Labor’s recent policy release on the topic.

Is slavery a problem in Australia?

First, there is no doubt that activities associated with modern slavery, such as human trafficking, servitude and forced labour, are grave human rights issues, requiring a dedicated and co-ordinated response.

Governments cannot solve the problem on their own. It is a particular issue in countries like India, but also occurs in Australia.

Between 2004 and 2016, the Australian Federal Police received almost 700 referrals relating to suspected human trafficking and slavery-related crimes, though only 17 people have so far been convicted of these offences.

Most recently, in February 2017, two men pleaded guilty to charges of servitude relating to their treatment of Taiwanese workers in Brisbane.

Recent media reports of exploitation of migrant workers in Western Australian farms and market gardens, Victorian farms, and in 7-Eleven retail stores nationwide, suggests this is a real – but often hidden – issue in Australia.

What developments are underway for a Modern Slavery Act in Australia?

Moves are underway in Australia to introduce new laws to tackle slavery that will operate outside the existing criminal law framework.

On February 15, a parliamentary inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia was launched. The terms of reference for the inquiry specifically refer to the UK’s Modern Slavery Act and to relevant findings from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s 2013 report Trading Lives: Modern Day Human Trafficking.

Although the UK’s Modern Slavery Act has seven parts, including protection for victims, civil and criminal provisions, new maritime enforcement mechanisms, and the establishment of an anti-slavery commissioner, the focus has overwhelmingly been on its impact on businesses.

The act and associated regulations require businesses with a turnover of £36 million or more to disclose what they are doing to eliminate slavery and trafficking from their supply chains and their own businesses. It appears there is support from people in the business community, and faith-based and other non-governmental organisations, for a similar business reporting initiative in Australia.

A key promoter of the introduction of a Modern Slavery Act here is businessman and philanthropist Andrew Forrest. He and his wife Nicola established Walk Free, a Perth-based international non-governmental organisation with a mission to “end modern slavery in our generation”.
Walk Free was one of the 173 organisations and individuals to make a submission to the parliamentary inquiry.

Although submissions varied in terms of how modern slavery and trafficking might best be tackled, there was broad, in-principle support for the introduction of an act. This includes submissions by businesses such as Qantas and Wesfarmers, both of which already report on their anti-slavery efforts under the UK legislation.

There is apparent bipartisan support for the initiative. The Coalition government has been exploring options for business reporting over the last several years through the Supply Chains Working Group set up as part of the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery.

Labor has expressed strong support for the introduction of new business reporting obligations, proposing to go further than the UK by imposing penalties on businesses in Australia that fail to report on their anti-slavery efforts.

In the UK, as well as at an international level, compliance with such reporting obligations is primarily driven by considerations of public opinion.

What international obligations exist?

Several voluntary international obligations relevant to modern slavery exist. Globally, more than 9,400 organisations from over 160 countries have committed as participants to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC). This is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, actively engaging in responsible human rights and labour practices.

The Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA) brings together UNGC participants, other leading companies, non-profit organisations and universities – including the University of Western Australia – to advance these same goals in Australia.

Furthermore, the UN has guiding principles on business and human rights. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has recently established an advisory group on the implementation of these principles.

OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises also apply to Australian businesses. For example, the associated dispute resolution mechanism has been used to bring a complaint against security firm GS4 Australia for conditions and alleged abuse of detainees on Manus Island.

Will an Australian Modern Slavery Act prove effective?

Last week’s visit to Australia by Kevin Hyland, the UK anti-slavery commissioner, was timely.

Although the UK legislation has received a cautious welcome so far, it is too early to judge whether it will have any meaningful impact on reducing worker exploitation.

In Australia, longstanding criminal laws against trafficking and slavery have not prevented their occurrence and, for the most part, have not been relied on by authorities to prosecute exploitation. The effectiveness of pursuing employers for the exploitation of migrant workers via the Fair Work Ombudsman is also limited.

By extending the responsibility to tackle exploitation to include business and not just government, it is hoped that the introduction of an Australian Modern Slavery Act will help tackle worker exploitation. However, there remains a risk that this initiative will continue the trend of side-stepping the root causes of worker exploitation in this country.

Vulnerability to workplace exploitation is closely connected to the regulation of migration and labour.

The ConversationTherefore, as well as receiving the support of Australia’s business community, any proposed solution to this problem must engage with government policies and practices affecting migration and migrant labour to reduce worker vulnerability.

Fiona McGaughey, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Western Australia; Dave Webb, Associate Professor of Marketing and Business Ethics, University of Western Australia, and Peta-Jane Hogg, PhD Candidate in Law, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.