Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia

May 24, 2017

The Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee of the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has commenced an inquiry into whether Australia should adopt national legislation to combat modern slavery, comparable to the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015.  ALHR made a detailed submission to the Inquiry supporting the implementation of a Modern Slavery Act in Australia by building on the lessons learned from other countries including, but not limited to, the United Kingdom. We have made 9 comprehensive recommendations outlining the key measures required.

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 45.8 million people around the world are in some form of modern slavery, which describes a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, forced labour, wage exploitation, forced marriage and debt bondage.

ALHR argues that Australian companies should be prevented from disavowing their overseas liabilities. An Australian Modern Slavery Act should be introduced as a positive step in maintaining and continuing Australia’s leadership in the global fight against modern slavery.

A comprehensive strategy is needed including the imposition of due diligence obligations and prohibition of the importation of goods tainted by unlawful labour practices such as slavery. Such an Act would impose legal obligations on Australian companies in respect to reporting and encourage companies to recognise and act so as to avoid slavery.

An Australian statute should be informed by:

  • current Australian law and policy provisions (such as Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) which criminalise human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) which imposes restrictions on employment of non-Australian citizens or permanent residents and the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 which penalises Australian companies for illegal activities overseas),
  • international principles and guidelines such as the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (“UNGPs”), OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, state-based legislative best practice and corporate best practice, and
  • similar legislation from other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015and Californian, French and Swiss legislation,further details of which are set out in this submission.
  • However the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015has a number of weaknesses which should be corrected in any similar Australian legislation, as set out in the Recommendations in Section 9.

The issue of modern slavery raises significant human rights issues for people living with disabilities in Australia, as explained in Section 2 of our submission. People with disabilities are subjected to slavery and slavery-like exploitation in a number of ways when it comes to work. People with disabilities are collectively amongst the most disempowered and marginalised members of Australian society insofar as they are:

  • denied access to the pre-conditions necessary to facilitate fair and equal participation in the labour market, including inclusive, non-discriminatory education and training;
  • lacking access to the same or equivalent industrial conditions that people without disability enjoy, including payment of at least the minimum wage, security of employment and adequate industrial benefits including superannuation entitlements;
  • subjected to adverse discrimination on the basis of their disability, both at the point of access to the labour market and within the labour market; and
  • often expected to perform unpaid labour by service providers .

For the above reasons and because employment is a core human rights concern, ALHR has chosen to dedicate specific attention to the importance of having an Australian Modern Slavery Act which will prevent human rights abuses against, and realise equality for, people living with disabilities in Australia.

ALHR’s Recommendations

Recommendation 1:

That the Federal Government should introduce a Modern Slavery Act which is consistent with and complements current Australian laws and the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015–19

Recommendation 2:

An Australian government sponsored Central Repository of Statements should be established, with disclosing organisations having a legal obligation to deposit annual statements

Recommendation 3:

An inclusive list of organisations required to produce a statement should be published annually

Recommendation 4:

Organisations should be required to include in their statements the steps they have taken to tackle modern slavery against specified criteria set out in the legislation

Recommendation 5:

Require board approval of the contents of each annual statement to be specifically referenced in the statement

Recommendation 6:

Include financial penalties and prohibitions on participating in public procurement for failing to publish statements or to satisfy mandatory reporting requirements

Recommendation 7:

That Australian subsidiaries operating overseas are included under the Modern Slavery Act purview, similar to the ILP

Recommendation 8:

Recognising bribery is often associated with modern slavery by making bribery a strict liability criminal offence when there is failure by ‘commercial organisations’ to prevent bribery by associated persons

Recommendation 9:

Any legislated requirement for reporting regarding modern slavery should include a provision that such reporting not be misleading/deceptive

You can read ALHR’s submission attached in full here.