At last, Australia has a Modern Slavery Act

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Australia’s very first Modern Slavery Bill was passed in Australian Parliament and the Senate just last week, Thursday 29 November. This is a significant achievement for the many advocacy groups, community organisations, the Law Council of Australia, Walk Free and Stop the Traffik, who have been pressing for this change for some time.

The new legislation, which will take effect on 1 January 2019, will mean organisations earning an annual consolidated revenue over $100 million will need to look for and report slavery risks in their global supply chains - any risks at all.

This affects approximately 3,000 businesses in Australia and is estimated to affect in excess of 40 million people who are trapped in slavery situations across the world today.

The businesses will be expected to provide annual slavery statements, signed off by the board and published at least six months after the publication of their annual report. This statement will document what the organisation is doing to eradicate slavery from their supply chain.

According to the NHS England, Modern slavery is the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation.

In an interview with news agency SBS, Morry Bailes, Law Council of Australia President, said: “Too often we are tempted to think of slavery as a relic of the past. But the truth is there are millions of people today held in slavery, and that includes in Australia. Introducing accountability into the supply chains of large organisations will go a significant way toward mitigating the scourge of modern slavery.”

Although the Act is not perfect, it is a very good start, after many years of campaigning by organisations and the Law Council of Australia. Campaigners would have liked to see the reporting threshold for Australian businesses to be lowered to $25 or $50 million rather than $100 million. There was also a push for the government to create an anti-slavery commissioner role which hasn’t happened yet, but potential exists for changes to legislation in future parliament sittings. Penalties for non-compliance are also on the agenda for a three-year review of the legislation.

Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, also welcomed the passing of the Bill.

“The Uniting Church believes that every human being is precious in God’s eyes and to enslave another person robs them of their human dignity. We thank those who have advocated long and hard for this result,” she said. “We especially thank those survivors who courageously shared their stories at the Parliamentary Inquiry last year and in numerous other forums.”

In a statement Stop the Traffik, a coalition of church and civil society groups and unions that has been working tirelessly for years to get Australia’s parliament to this point, welcomed this Act as a first step in addressing transparency and modern slavery in supply chains. “But it is only a start,” they said. “We are pleased there will be a three-year review, which will include addressing whether civil penalties for non-compliance in reporting will be introduced.”

The December/January edition of New Times features an article on page 15, titled “The Products of Modern Slavery”. The article, prepared by Tash Crumpler, outlines the unintentional ways our spending habits can feed into modern day slavery. Fortunately, the Modern Slavery Bill will bring accountability to Australian organisations to review their global supply chains and hence stop the scourge of modern day slavery which Australians may inadvertently feed into.


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