Preventing slavery and human trafficking

If I were Attorney General, I would take action to assist in global efforts to end human trafficking and slavery, by addressing goods imported into Australia where these crimes have been used in the production of the goods. There can be no doubt there are goods entering Australia that are produced using slavery or trafficked labour. The US Department of Labor has identified a wide range of goods that involved the use of forced labour and exploited child labour that are imported into the US. These goods include footwear, textiles, cocoa, bricks, carpets, clothing, cotton, gems, rice, silk, palm oil, rubber and pornography. For example, the US Department of State estimates that more than 109,000 children in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry work under “the worst forms of child labor”, and that some 10,000 are victims of human trafficking or enslavement. Cote d’Ivoire supplies approximately 40% of the world’s cocoa supplying brands like Nestlé and Mars.

Many of the same goods from the same countries are imported into Australia. For those goods where trade figures exist, over $600 million of goods in categories where there is a risk that forced labour or exploited child labour were used in the production were imported into Australia in 2009–2010.

While the Australian Government has made it an offence for any Australian individual or company to engage in any financial transaction involving a slave, regardless of where it occurs in the world, no effort is currently made to identify Australian companies importing goods that involve the use of slavery in their production. The result is that no Australian company has been prosecuted for being associated with slavery in the production of goods they have imported and sold.

Slavery is recognised internationally as a serious criminal offence, and human trafficking is achieving similar recognition. Other countries around the world, especially the US, are taking slavery and human trafficking in the supply chains of companies with growing seriousness and introducing measures to address the problem.

One of the reasons Australia needs to act is law and, especially, law enforcement is inadequate in combating slavery and human trafficking in a number of countries that Australia imports goods from. While many of these countries have made commendable efforts to combat slave labour, forced labour and trafficked labour, support from the demand side of the equation by consumer countries like Australia would assist in eradicating these abuses.

Further, goods produced with the involvement of slavery or trafficked labour meet the international definition for the proceeds of crime. Australia is a State Party to the UN Convention Against Corruption(UNCAC). Article 2 of UNCAC defines “Proceeds of Crime” as “any property derived from or obtained, directly or indirectly, through the commission of an offence”. By this definition, goods produced through the use of slavery and trafficked labour and any revenue generated from the sale of such goods are proceeds of crime.

As Attorney General I would commission research, similar to that conducted by the US Department of Labor, to identify goods being imported into Australia where there is a high risk of human trafficking and slavery having been involved in their production. I would seek to introduce Australian legislation to match the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorisation Act 2005 which requires the Government to take action to create standards to reduce the likelihood that imported goods involve the use of exploited child labour or forced labour. This would include working with industries identified as carrying a significant risk to take meaningful steps to monitor their supply chains and take any necessary corrective action.

I would seek the introduction of Australian legislation to match the California Supply Chain Transparency Act (SB657) to require businesses importing goods at risk of slavery or human trafficking being involved in their production to disclose publicly what actions they are taking to ensure these crimes are not in their supply chain.

I would seek amendment to the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 to ensure that, in government procurement, companies would need to provide evidence they have taken reasonable steps to ensure slavery and human trafficking had not been involved in the production of goods, where such a risk exists for the goods in question.

For industries where the risk of slavery and human trafficking in the production of goods was high and where the industry failed to demonstrate a willingness to take effective steps to end these abuses, I would seek the introduction of mandatory certification standards. We already see examples of mandatory certification being applied to illegally sourced timber and wood products through the USLacey Act, with the Australian Government currently looking at doing something similar through theIllegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011. Mandatory certification is also required of diamonds to ensure they are not ‘conflict diamonds’ through the Kimberly Process in which 75 countries participate. This certification process only deals with the problem of diamonds being used to finance rebel groups in armed conflict, and currently lacks standards to address forced labour in the production of the diamonds. The mandatory certification standards I would seek to introduce would aim to deal specifically with slavery and human trafficking.

Ending slavery and human trafficking needs action in the source countries where these abuses occur. However, it also requires action by consumer countries like Australia. We should not seek to benefit from the cheaper prices of goods produced with these abuses in their supply chain, but instead should be willing to make it clear we will not be the willing recipients of such goods.

Dr Mark Zirnsak is Director of the Justice and International Mission Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church in Australia. Mark is also the National Coordinator of the Australian Network to Ban Landmines, Chair of the Victorian InterChurch Gambling Taskforce and Chair of the Victorian Council of Churches Social Questions Committee.