Australia should introduce strong laws to tackle modern slavery in the global supply chains of Australian businesses, the Human Rights Law Centre today told a parliamentary inquiry hearing.
At a hearing before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Keren Adams, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said recent labour abuses like those seen recently in the supply chains of some of Australia’s biggest brands highlight the need for greater regulation by government to compel Australian businesses to lift their game.
“I've met kids in Cambodia who had been compelled to work 14-hour days on plantations to supply produce that ends up on Western supermarket shelves. We need a better system of regulation here to ensure that Australian companies are not turning a blind eye to these sorts of practices,” 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.
The HRLC’s submission is available here.
“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
The HRLC specifically called 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,”