Government releases the Report of the statutory review of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth)

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) welcomes the release of the Report of the statutory review of the first three years of operation of the Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act 2018 (the Act). The Report, led by Prof. John McMillian AO, makes 30 recommendations. ALHR made a submission to the public consultation as part of the review process, which focused on three key questions: Can a law such as the Modern Slavery Act be effective in combatting modern slavery? Could the Act be more effective if changes were made to how it is framed and administered? Is the law being taken seriously? 

ALHR Business and Human Rights Co-Chair Dr Natalia Szablewska said, “We’ve reached an important milestone in Australia and we need to ensure that the regulation we currently have is fit for purpose and protects the most vulnerable in our community, wherever they may be located.”

ALHR welcomes the Report’s recommendations, in particular extending the scope of the Act to cover due diligence beyond transparency reporting. This measure would require entities to take effective action to address identified modern slavery risks. Report also endorses the introduction of penalties for non-compliance, and the establishment of a federal Anti-Slavery Commissioner who would complement the work of the New South Wales Commissioner appointed last year. These recommendations align with consistent calls for reform by civil society, including ALHR, since the passage of the Act.

The Act was introduced on 1 January 2019 and provided much-needed regulation of Australian entities to address the impact of their operations and cascade the importance of preventing modern slavery down their supply chains.  The Act is complemented by relevant legislation in NSW, the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW), which did not come into effect until 1 January 2022. 

Dr Szablewska further said, “The Act has served its initial purpose. It has raised awareness of the reality that over 40,000 people in Australia currently experience in modern slavery. It has also increased private sector awareness and understanding of the responsibility to combat the significant harms suffered as a result of modern slavery in their supply chains and business relations.”

“However, we now need a regulation that keeps up with the global developments, including that many more jurisdictions are heading towards due diligence requirements and a comprehensive focus on addressing human rights and environmental risks to ensure sustainable corporate business practices.”

ALHR Business and Human Rights Co-Chair Lara Douvartzidis said, “This report reflects the growing understanding by Australian lawmakers of the importance of integrating global best practices approaches when framing national modern slavery legislation. We welcome the effort by drafters to assess overseas modern slavery and due diligence regimes and to confirm Australia’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 8.7.”

“These recommendations better align Australia with its international human rights law obligations and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), reflecting both the interconnectedness of our supply and value chains and the insidious nature of modern slavery itself, exacerbated by COVID-19, armed conflict and climate change,” Ms Douvartzidis said.

“Taking a human rights based approach and using rights based language is a much welcomed and necessary next step, particularly given Australia is the only developed liberal Democracy yet to protect human rights in a federal Human Rights Act. ALHR looks forward to continued dialogue as these proposed recommendations mature and strengthen into legislative amendments.”

“The review of the Act in line with the Report Recommendations is critical for strengthening the regulatory framework and addressing its shortcomings to ensure that Australian entities lead changes in the global economy where one’s gain is not simply another’s loss.”     

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.