Australia must legislate to prevent modern slavery in corporate supply chains

Australia must legislate to prevent modern slavery in corporate supply chains

Australia needs clear, action-oriented laws to tackle modern slavery in the global supply chains of Australian businesses, the Human Rights Law Centre told a Parliamentary Inquiry.

Keren Adams, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said with some of Australia’s biggest brands like Rip Curl, Quicksilver, Woolworths and Coles recently caught up in forced labour scandals, it is clear the Australian Government needs a better system to compel businesses to lift their game.

“Many Australians would be appalled to think that the prawns for their summer BBQ might have been produced off the back of Burmese refugees chained to Thai fishing boats, or that their latest ski jacket was made with child labour in places in North Korea. Yet that’s the brutal reality for many supply chains linked to a number of Australian brands and businesses,” said Ms Adams.

“Ultimately, it is the big brands that have the greatest power to pull their suppliers into line and stamp out forced labour, that’s why we need our Government to lay down standards to encourage and, where necessary, compel businesses to use that power,” said Ms Adams

In its submission, the Human Rights Law Centre called on the Government to look to the experience of the UK, US and Europe, where a range of effective measures have already been introduced to better combat slavery in supply chains. Specifically it calls for laws requiring businesses to undertake due diligence to assess and deal with the risk of forced labour in their supply chains and publicly report on those steps.

“Transparency is the first step towards accountability. The Government needs to compel businesses to open up their books and sites for external scrutiny. With these severe abuses occurring virtually unchecked for many years it’s obvious that self-regulation simply isn’t working,” said Ms Adams.

Adopting legislation to regulate company supply chains would be an important step towards Australia meeting its international obligations under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Ms Adams said better regulation and legal protections against modern slavery would benefit businesses, consumers and workers and that Australia could become a leader in the region if the Government committed to strong legislative action.

“Many Australian businesses are already taking active steps to clean up their supply chains, so the Government needs to help ensure those businesses that are doing the right thing are not being undercut by those businesses that turn a blind eye to abuses in their supply chains,”

The HRLC’s submission is available here.


For further information or comments, please contact:
HRLC's Director of Communications and Campaigns, Tom Clarke on 0422 545 763