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Four years on, has Australia’s Modern Slavery Act been effective?

  • Published on
    May 31, 2023
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  • Category:
    Law & Policy
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An independent review of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act has concluded that the legislation is failing to have a significant impact on curbing modern slavery and urges the Australian government to implement recommendations to strengthen the law.

The Australian government must act

According to the latest Global Slavery Index released by international human rights organization Walk Free, an estimated 50 million people were in situations of modern slavery in 2021, a number that has increased by 10 million since the last estimates were published in 2016.

In this context of widespread systemic global exploitation, the review of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act has been highly anticipated. But the conclusions have been underwhelming and point to a need for much stronger action on the part of the government.

The Act is limited to requiring companies and entities generating annual revenues above 100 million AUD to identify the risk of forced labour in their operations and supply chains. As such, the focus of the legislation is limited to this one form of modern slavery.

Those companies that are caught by the law must also report on how they are addressing the forced labor risks in their operations and supply chains, and report on actions they’re taking. However, there are no penalties for companies that fail to comply with the Act.

Research conducted by a coalition of stakeholders including human rights organizations and academics found that the law “is generating widespread awareness, but in the worst case, it provides a shiny veneer for a business model that contributes to modern slavery”.

Strengthening the Modern Slavery Act

Out of the more than 3,000 companies that are caught by the legislation, a small handful identified forced labor in their supply chains. Even fewer have taken steps to remedy these abuses. A lack of independent oversight and penalties for noncompliance leaves consumers and investors with the burden to hold companies accountable.

Kyla Raby and Katherine Chris write in the Conversation:

The review tabled in parliament last week attempts to remedy the act’s shortcomings. It recommends requiring companies to implement a due diligence system to address the modern slavery risk in their direct operations and supply chains.

This would make it unacceptable for businesses to simply say they are doing something. Instead they would be required to “walk the talk”.

Beyond forced labor in supply chains, the Modern Slavery Act has been deemed ineffective for tackling broader modern slavery issues since it does not address “poverty, gender inequality, exploitative business practices, weak governance and regulatory inadequacy.”

Take action

We’re calling on world governments to pass mandatory human rights due diligence legislation that would hold businesses accountable to environmental and human rights abuses in their supply chains, and enable workers to access justice. Sign the petition today!

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