This week, the Australian government took a significant step forward in its fight against modern slavery by publishing the first batch of statements from companies outlining their efforts to ensure their supply chains do not involve modern slavery.
The reports are the first substantial fruits of Australia’s 2018 Modern Slavery Act, which requires all businesses with an annual turnover of A$100 million or more to publish modern slavery statements detailing the modern slavery risk in their operations and supply chains, along with the actions they have taken to address these each year.
Currently, there are 121 statements in the repository, including 19 from companies that are not required to report but have done so anyway to highlight their commitment to tackling modern slavery .
Companies have until March 2021 to submit reports after the deadline was extended due to COVID-19.
Among those to have submitted their reports to the repository are major companies Coles Group and Wesfarmers.
The Conversation reports:
Coles’ statement reports on “risks or indicators” of modern slavery, based on each country in its supply chain. For example, for China it identifies risks of forced or bonded labour, deceptive recruitment, exploitation of migrant workers, child labour, underpayment of wages and excessive working hours.
Wesfarmers’ statement is relatively detailed and transparent and reports “critical breaches” including allegations of excessive overtime, transparency (record keeping and documentation), safety (building and fire safety) and unauthorised subcontracting and bribery.
Don’t expect to see widespread disclosures of modern slavery in any statements. The Modern Slavery Act requires reporting on risks and the actions to address these. So the content of the statements tends to cover risk assessment, policies, training and, to a lesser extent, remedies.
While countries like the U.K. and France have similar laws requiring modern slavery statements, the Australian repository is a world first as it is run not by NGOs but directly by the government.
Although there are no fines or penalties for failure to comply with publishing statements, the repository puts reputations on the line by presenting an opportunity for the public to monitor which companies are committed to fighting modern slavery.
Other ways to drive companies’ compliance with the Modern Slavery Act have been proposed, including limiting government tenders to those businesses that do not comply.
While the question of enforcement and penalties will be raised in the three-year review of the Modern Slavery Act in 2021, the repository is a positive first step in putting the Act into practice.
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