Proposed laws to address abuse in corporate supply chains a step in the right direction

Proposed laws to address abuse in corporate supply chains a step in the right direction

The Human Rights Law Centre today welcomed the Australian Government’s proposed laws that will see businesses report annually on their actions to address modern slavery in their global supply chains.

The HRLC had recently told a parliamentary inquiry hearing that Australia should introduce strong laws to tackle modern slavery in the global supply chains of Australian businesses – the details here

Keren Adams, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Centre, said labour abuses like those recently seen 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 in blistering heat to supply produce that ends up on Western supermarket shelves. We clearly 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.

The proposed law will ensure large businesses and other entities operating in Australia publish annual public statements outlining the actions they are taking to combat forced labour in their operations and supply chains. These statements have to be signed off at board level.

“Transparency is the first step towards accountability. It’s the right step for the Government 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.

Ms Adams particularly welcomed the government’s plan to include set mandatory criteria that companies will be required against, which she said would help ensure better quality and more consistent reporting by companies. However, Ms Adams urged the government to re-think its decision not to include any penalties for companies which do not comply with the new reporting regime.

“It is disappointing to see that the Government proposes no financial penalties for companies which don’t comply with the reporting regime. We have seen that in the UK, this approach has led to very low reporting rates. If we go down that path in Australia, businesses trying to do the right thing will continue to be undercut by businesses who turn a blind eye to abuses,” said Ms Adams.

The HRLC’s submission to the Modern Slavery Inquiry is available here.