Pressing need for Australia to bridge business and human rights gaps: Review of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act 2018
ALHR has made a submission to the statutory review of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth). We are calling on the Federal Government to implement our recommendations for reforms to urgently strengthen the legislation and more effectively hold companies accountable for identifying and preventing modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
According to the most recent estimates, 49.6 million people worldwide, including some 15,000 in Australia, are trapped in forms of modern slavery, with 86% of those in forced labour being exploited in the private sector. This makes modern slavery more prevalent today than ever in human history. It is vital that the MSA reflects the current issues facing individuals, the community, businesses and the nation as a whole regarding modern slavery in order for the Act to be relevant, effective and responsive to the national, regional and global developments in this space.
ALHR’s submission makes recommendations for amendment to the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (The Act), including but not limited to:
- The Act be amended to require reporting entities to undertake robust human rights due diligence to address modern slavery
- A compensation fund should be established to provide an appropriate remedy for people subjected to exploitation through Australian companies’ operations and supply chains
- Mandatory reporting criteria should be extended through a two-stage iterative approach which will assist entities in improving the quality of their reporting, engaging more meaningfully by speaking directly to specific modern slavery risks and enabling reporting to be a more beneficial tool in combatting modern slavery
- Relevant Commonwealth trafficking laws should be amended to introduce an offence that captures the conduct of trafficking in human tissues and organs which occurs overseas, in particular, the illicit removal of organs and/or tissues from living or deceased persons and the solicitation of commercial organ transplants
- The Act should be amended to specifically prescribe the entities to take reasonable and effective steps to map their supply chains, with heightened expectations for risk-prone sectors
- The Act should further harmonised, as far as possible, with the reporting requirements as well as approaches adopted in other jurisdictions by working closely with regional and global counterparts and sharing data and information to address the global nature of modern slavery
- Voluntary reporting under the Act should be retained
- There should be penalties and sanctions for noncompliance with the Act
- Australian state and territory government bodies and local councils should be required to report under the Act
- Providing an indication of the compliance or noncompliance of a reporting entity will provide an effective, non-punitive accountability mechanism
- ALHR recommends a number of improvements to the Register to make it more user-friendly and to improve navigation throughout the website
- An office of a well-resourced and independent regulator, such as a Commonwealth Anti-Slavery Commissioner, should be established and should not be subject to the control or direction of any Government agencies in the exercise of its functions and powers
- A continuous three-yearly review of the Act should be introduced for the entire duration of the Act’s operation to ensure that the Act is achieving its aims and objectives and that it keeps up with contemporary and emerging challenges
- The federal government should introduce a ban on the import of goods produced by forced labour wherever it may occur
Media Release: Pressing need for Australia to bridge business and human rights gaps
Leading human rights lawyers say the need for Australia to act to bridge remaining gaps between business and respect for people and the planet is more pressing than ever. Calls for reform to ensure Australia elevates human rights, in the context of business behaviour and wider environmental concerns, have been renewed following the recent 11th United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights. This year, the forum focused on “rights holders at the centre: strengthening accountability to advance business respect for people and the planet in the next decade.”
In Australia, the Federal Government is undertaking a statutory review of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (the Act) following its first three years of operation. Designed to address modern slavery risks in the domestic and international activities of entities based, or operating, in Australia, with an annual consolidated revenue of more than $100 million, the Act is under consideration by business, civil society and government alike, in order to assess its operation and compliance. An Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) submission submitted in this review makes 14 discrete recommendations to strengthen Australia’s domestic response to modern slavery.
ALHR’s Senior Co-Chair of Business and Human Rights, Dr Natalia Szablewska, said, “According to the most recent estimates, 49.6 million people worldwide, including some 15,000 in Australia, are trapped in forms of modern slavery. This makes modern slavery more prevalent today than ever in human history. It is vital that Australia’s Modern Slavery Act reflects the current issues facing individuals, businesses and the country as a whole, in order for the Act to be relevant, effective and responsive to national, regional and global developments in this space.”
Dr Szablewska explained, “ALHR is calling for the introduction of penalties and sanctions for non-compliance under the Act and the urgent establishment of an independent regulator, as well as a compensation fund for people subjected to exploitation through the operations and supply chains of Australian companies.” Research shows that current compliance with the Act may only be superficial and a ‘race to the middle’. Australia needs more obligations-focused and outcomes-oriented approaches, such as mandatory human rights due diligence.”
ALHR’s Youth Co-Chair of Business and Human Rights, Millie Jones, added, “Complex supply chains make modern slavery an inherently global issue. Australia must look to best practice in other jurisdictions, increase information sharing across borders and seek to harmonise its approach on the issue with that of other nations.
“ALHR calls upon the Australian Government to consider the very real human cost of modern slavery in its recommendations for reform and to urgently strengthen the Act in order to more effectively hold companies accountable for identifying and preventing modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.”
Read ALHR’s submission to the Statutory Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) in full here
Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365