Australia

Praise after Australia's first federal Modern Slavery Act becomes law

Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP

More than 40 million people worldwide are believed to be victims of modern slavery, including 15,000 Australians.

Businesses with turnovers of more than $100 million will have to report what they are doing to stamp out slavery in supply chains after legislation got the final tick of approval in parliament.

The House of Representatives approved amendments to the draft laws which were raised in the Senate, giving the minister the ability to send companies a please explain if they fail to report.

The minister also must report annually to parliament about how the regime is working.

Advocates welcome historic passing of bill

Walk Free Foundation Founder Andrew Forrest commended MPs for passing the bill.

“An Australian Modern Slavery Act is essential if Australia is going to play a role in making slavery a thing of the past,” he said.

He said he felt confident the new bill, modelled on the UK Modern Slavery Act, would help to end the trafficking of humans.

Thailand, Indonesia and China’s fishing industries are reported to be rife with forced labour.
Thailand, Indonesia and China’s fishing industries are reported to be rife with forced labour.
Grace Forrest/Walk Free Foundation

“This Act will help us ensure the goods we buy are slave free. We cannot continue to allow the often-invisible victims of modern slavery to be stripped of their freedoms.

"The products they produce are found in the supply chains of Australian and international companies that provide the food that we eat, the clothes that we wear and the consumer goods we use."

Law Council of Australia President, Morry Bailes, said the bill is an important step in ensuring Australia played its part in eliminating slavery.

“Too often we are tempted to think of slavery as a relic of the past. But the truth is there are millions of people today held in slavery, and that includes in Australia.

“Introducing accountability into the supply chains of large organisations will go a significant way toward mitigating the scourge of modern slavery.”

Mr Bailes said he would to see the appointment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner and penalty regime to ensure accountability.

No penalties for breaches

However, companies won't face any penalties for shirking responsibility or false reporting.

Instead, civil penalties will be examined in a review of the scheme which will occur three years after the laws come into place.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has blasted the three year wait as a "weak", ineffective measure.

Penalties are needed now alongside an independent anti-slavery commissioner, ACTU president Michele O'Neil says.

"As it stands, this bill doesn't send a strong enough message to companies - we need fines in order to really be able to say they cannot get away with tolerating the presence of slavery as 'business as usual'," she said.

Labor's attempted penalties amendment failed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The opposition also wanted forced marriage dropped from the bill's definition of slavery, raising fears it could drive the practice further underground.

Modern slavery practices include people trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and forced marriage.

More than 40 million people worldwide are believed to be victims of modern slavery, including 15,000 Australians.

Correction: This story originally, incorrectly, stated that “More than 40 million people worldwide are believed to be victims of modern slavery, including 4300 Australians". This should have been 15,000 people in Australia. 

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