Modern slavery bill lacks teeth

Modern slavery bill lacks teeth

Stronger oversight and compliance measures are needed to ensure the Australian Government’s modern slavery legislation is effective in combating forced labour, the Human Rights Law Centre told a Senate Inquiry today.

The Modern Slavery Bill, which is being reviewed by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, would 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’s bill 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 list of the companies expected to comply with the laws have also been ignored.

Keren Adams, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the seriousness and scale of labour rights abuses in Australian companies’ supply chains highlight 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 by their feet 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.”

“We fully support legislation to help stamp out this abuse, but this bill is missing 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 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 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.

The HRLC’s submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee is here.

For further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519