Australia to consider a Modern Slavery Act

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This article was written by Sally Audeyev, Monique Carroll and Elouise Davis.

Last year we reported on the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (c. 30) (the MSA) by the UK legislature, which sets out unprecedented reporting requirements in respect of transparency in supply chains, by which companies worldwide who carry on business in the UK must now abide. One year on, Australia is reconsidering its own approach to modern slavery laws, currently contained in Division 270 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), which deal with prohibitions on slavery and slavery-like conditions, which affect corporations and financiers in Australia.

The new UK legislation requires businesses with a turnover in excess of £36 million to report on the steps that the organisation has taken to clean up its supply chains, through publication of a 'slavery and human trafficking' statement each financial year. The company must have the statement approved by its board of directors, after which it must be prominently displayed on the company's website, including a link displayed on the company website's home page.

Read our previous alert in full here.

In February 2017, the French National Assembly adopted a law requiring human rights due diligence by multinational corporations in their operations and supply chains. Consistent with the MSA, the new French law requires large companies to publish a 'due diligence plan' from 1 January 2018, outlining measures that have been taken by the organisation to prevent abuses within its supply chain. Notably – unlike the UK law – the failure to publish such a plan will enable a victim of abuse, or any other concerned party, to bring litigation before the offending company, punishable by fines of up to 10 million Euros.

The Australian Government is now considering whether to introduce legislation equivalent to the MSA in Australia.

To this end the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (the Committee) is conducting an inquiry with terms of reference including:

  • The nature and extent of modern slavery and its pervasiveness in the supply chains of organisations operating in Australia;
  • The consideration of worldwide best practice on the issue of modern slavery, with a view to improving practices and legislation in Australia;
  • The impact and efficacy of the UK legislation;
  • The implications for Australia's visa regime, and conformity with the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children regarding federal compensation for victims of modern slavery; and
  • The necessity of a MSA in Australia.

The Committee, in its considerations, defines modern slavery as including slavery, forced labour, wage exploitation, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced marriage and other related behaviours. The Committee is accepting submissions until Friday, 28 April 2017.

Please see the Parliament of Australia's Inquiry page for further details about how to make a submission.

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