Stronger oversight and compliance measures are needed to ensure the Government’s new modern slavery legislation is effective in combating forced labour, the Human Rights Law Centre said today.
The Modern Slavery Bill, introduced to parliament today, will require organisations with a turnover of more than $100 million to publish annual public statements outlining the risks of forced labour in their supply chains and what they are doing to address them.
However, the Government proposes no sanctions for companies that fail to report, which was a key recommendation of last year’s Modern Slavery Inquiry. Other recommendations, including the appointment of an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and publication of a public list of companies expected to comply with the laws also appear to have been ignored.
Keren Adams, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Centre, said the seriousness and scale of labour rights abuses heard by the Inquiry highlighted the urgent need for robust laws to address them.
“We’ve heard horrific stories of abuse linked to some of Australia’s biggest brands. Burmese migrants chained to Thai fishing boats supplying the seafood we eat. Australian surf wear made in North Korean sweatshops. And even here in Australia, people working on farms and in restaurants in slave-like conditions.”
“It’s absolutely the right step for the Government to be introducing legislation to help flush out abuse, but today’s bill is missing some vital ingredients that would make it effective in doing so,” said Ms Adams.
Ms Adams was particularly critical of the Government’s decision not to introduce financial or other penalties for companies that fail to report or provide misleading information.
“A mandatory reporting scheme is not really mandatory if there are no consequences for companies that fail to comply. Without financial penalties - and with no independent Commissioner to help enforce them - the new laws will lack the necessary teeth to make sure the worst offenders lift their game.”
“The Government must urgently address the weaknesses in this bill and send a strong message to brands that profiting from abuse will not be tolerated,” added Ms Adams.
For further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519