Australia’s Modern Slavery Act (MSA) has once again come under scrutiny for failing to hold businesses accountable for forced labor in their operations. A new report by human rights advocates entitled “Broken Promises” investigates two years of statements submitted by 92 companies in at risk industries including garments in China, rubber gloves in Malaysia, seafood in Thailand, and fresh produce in Australia.
Al Jazeera reports,
Two out of three companies are still failing to comply with legally-required reporting requirements, while more than half have failed to follow through on commitments to improve their anti-slavery efforts, a coalition of rights groups and academics said in a report released on Thursday.
Modern Slavery Act failing to change corporate behavior
As such, the report finds, the MSA is failing to drive the changes in corporate behavior needed to address modern slavery.
The MSA requires large companies with annual revenue of more than $100 million to publish annual statements on how they are tackling modern slavery in their supply chains – without penalties for failing to do so. Furthermore, no entity has been appointed to monitor reporting entities’ reports.
Civil society doing the work of government and business – without support
In fact, the report found that, “Compliance with the MSA relies principally on market forces: consumers, investors, civil society organisations, academics, and the media which are expected to monitor disclosure efforts.” The MSA relies on civil society backlash to keep businesses accountable which, as it notes, is not an ideal reporting model.
The MSA, which was introduced in 2018 and is up for review in 2023, has previously come under criticism from advocates for being soft on companies and only a “paper promise”. Some have attempted to pass additional legislation to shore up the Act’s weak points.
Regarding the results of the investigation, Freya Dinshaw from one of the reporting organizations, the Human Rights Law Centre, calls on the Australian government to put people at the heart of anti-slavery efforts:
“Our modern slavery laws need to evolve so that they put people, rather than paperwork, at their centre. In order to be more effective, the Act should be amended to require companies to take action to address modern slavery risks rather than just reporting on their current practices. It should impose penalties on companies that fail to do so and have robust oversight and enforcement by an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. We urge the Government to use the current statutory review to make these key reforms to strengthen the law”.