Proposal for Australia to ban the import of goods made with forced labour passes the Senate

Independent senator Rex Patrick has presented his bill to push for a tough legislative stance against modern slavery.

Independent Senator Rex Patrick.

Independent Senator Rex Patrick. Source: AAP

The Senate has voted to support a bill that would see Australia ban the import of goods made with forced labour.

Independent senator Rex Patrick said the bill also responds to concerns over reports of China's widespread use of Uighur forced labour.

"We need to send a very clear political signal to Beijing and to the numerous international brands that have been happy to turn a blind eye to China's massive exploitation of forced labour," he said. 

Senator Patrick estimated the global figure of slaves was between 38 million and 46 million. 

"The use of forced labour within global production chains has emerged as a major humanitarian concern."

Senator Patrick said there was undeniable evidence hundreds of thousands of Uighur people in China's Xinjiang province have been subjected to forced labour.

"International action against modern slavery is building," he told the Senate on Monday.

Human rights groups, Uighur organisations and unions had called on the Senate to pass the proposed measures and implement additional powers for the Australian Border Force to ensure the legislation can be enforced. 

"The industrial scale at which Uyghurs are being held in internment and labour camps means immediate action on this issue is needed," Ramila Chanisheff, President of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Womens’ Association said.

"We do not have a single member that has not been personally affected by the gross human rights violations on family or friends in East Turkistan, also known as Xinjiang.

Senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, Freya Dinshaw, said Australia's imports regime needs to put the onus on importers. 

"Most Australians would be horrified to know there is nothing in place to stop goods made with forced labour in places like Xinjiang ending up on Australian shelves," she said. 

In July, the United States Senate passed legislation with a similar intent.

The Uighur Forced Labour Prevention Act created a "rebuttable presumption" assuming goods manufactured in Xinjiang are made with forced labour and therefore banned under the 1930 Tariff Act, unless otherwise certified by US authorities.

The bipartisan measure shifted the burden of proof to importers.

The independent senator's bill will now go to the lower house. 

Published 23 August 2021 at 6:06am, updated 23 August 2021 at 1:20pm
Source: AAP - SBS