On Monday 30 October I gave evidence to the Modern Slavery Committee of the NSW Legislative Council, regarding the review of the NSW Modern Slavery Act 2018. I spoke about the need for continued attention and resolve to ensure both fiscal and ethical responsibility in public spending. A transcript of the evidence can be found below.
The Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018 (MSA) aims to combat modern slavery in the operations and supply chains of Australian businesses by requiring them to report on their efforts to address this issue. However, the question remains whether the Act is fit for purpose. This new report, based on data collected from a business survey and focus groups conducted in 2022 and 2023, offers new insights to inform policy change and business practices by examining the gaps between policy and practice in corporate modern slavery statements.
Effectiveness and barriers
Our investigation gathered input from respondents regarding the MSA’s effectiveness, best practices for implementing remediation measures, and potential reforms. The report presents evidence of corporate responses triggered by the MSA and stakeholders’ perceptions of its impact. Findings reveal a broad consensus that the current corporate responses to the Australian MSA are generally not benefiting victim-survivors of modern slavery. While the MSA raises awareness in the best case, it may also provide a superficial appearance of compliance for businesses that continue to depend on opaque supply chains and cheap labor without substantive commitment to addressing abuses.
Two critical issues highlighted by survey and focus group participants for improving policy and practices to address modern slavery are enhancing supplier relationships and stakeholder engagement. Respondents identified several barriers to effective remediation, including current procurement practices, low trust between suppliers and reporting entities, and inadequate resourcing by businesses for remediation efforts that would compensate and empower victim-survivors of modern slavery. Remediation is a crucial aspect of addressing modern slavery, and effective processes must prioritise risk to people over risk to business.
Remediation and potential reform
The findings also offer insights into practices that may contribute to more effective remediation of modern slavery, providing valuable lessons for government policy focus and businesses seeking to improve their approach to remedy. Survey data indicates that participants who engage key stakeholders in remediation, such as trade unions, report the most effective approaches. Other essential tools include risk management practices like supplier training and increased transparency from suppliers—practices currently utilised by Australian businesses.
Data from this report and previous research demonstrate a strong desire for MSA reform and the need to incentivise improved practices. A majority of survey respondents:
- Endorse establishing an Anti-Slavery Commissioner;
- Support harmonising the MSA with international standards, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and emerging legislation in other countries;
- Agree that mandating human rights due diligence requirements would lead to improved responses to addressing modern slavery;
- Support a mix of policy measures, including sanctions and incentives (such as disqualification from government tenders, financial penalties, and director liability) to better tackle modern slavery.
There is a clear disconnect between policy and implementation when it comes to addressing modern slavery within the operations and supply chains of Australian businesses. This stems from a lack of transparency in corporate supply chains, which hinders both the detection and resolution of modern slavery issues. To effectively combat this, it is essential to prioritize enhancing supplier relationships and collaborating with key stakeholders such as trade unions. The problem can only be resolved if it is first acknowledged and understood. Gaining better insight into labor conditions in supply chains through engagement with frontline workers is a fundamental and indispensable initial measure in the battle against modern slavery.
All respondents advocated for reform of the MSA to drive company action that benefits victim-survivors of modern slavery, rather than merely promoting superficial compliance with the Act. This report, therefore, serves as a call to action for both policymakers and businesses to work together to enhance the effectiveness of the MSA and genuinely address the issue of modern slavery in corporate supply chains.
Uyghur Australians have condemned Muslim-majority member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council for voting down a debate on allegations of human rights abuses against minorities, including Muslims and Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China.
Among the 19 members who voted against the debate were Pakistan, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
For three years, Sadam Abdusalam watched his newborn grow into a toddler through the screen of a mobile phone. He was thousands of kilometres away in Australia, and his son Lufti and his wife Nadila were stuck in China’s Xinjiang province, unable to leave.
A Uyghur originally from Xinjiang, Mr Abdusalam was separated from his family for three years after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seized Nadila’s passport in 2017. He said the CCP began taking “as many” Uyghurs’ passports as they could in that year.
It might be easy to imagine, especially in Australia, that slavery is a thing of the past. But an estimated 15,000 people were living in conditions of modern slavery here in 2016, through forced marriage and labour, sexual exploitation, debt bondage and human trafficking – exploitation that disproportionately affects women, children, asylum seekers and migrants. Globally, in that same year, 40.3 million victims were being abused.
Martijn Boersma is an associate professor of human trafficking and modern slavery at the University of Notre Dame Australia, where a new course aims to provide the skills and knowledge that will enable people to work proactively to put an end to the exploitation of vulnerable people.
Modern slavery and worker exploitation are severe types of exploitation that can be found both internationally and in New Zealand. To address these behaviours, significant collaboration between government agencies as well as civil society, corporations, trade unions, academics, and international partners is needed.
The New Zealand Government sought feedback on a new law aimed at addressing modern slavery and worker exploitation in New Zealand and around the world. The law would introduce new obligations for organisations with operations and supply chains in New Zealand. Below is a submission made by academics and representatives from civil society that work on modern slavery and labour exploitation.
Two years into its operation, close to 4,000 statements have now been published on the government’s modern slavery register. Yet the extent to which the legislation is transforming business practices or making a tangible difference to the lives of workers remains highly uncertain. This report analyses 102 company statements published in the first reporting cycle of the MSA, to evaluate how many companies are starting to implement effective measures to address modern slavery and how many are lagging.
This report is part of a two-year collaborative research project by academics and civil society organisations aimed at improving responses to modern slavery and access to remedy for affected workers.
Businesses with ties to the Xinjiang province in China find themselves at a junction.
Caught in debates concerning Uyghur people being the victim of modern slavery and genocide, they must deal with concerns expressed by Western governments and human rights groups, and an increasingly agitated Chinese Communist Party.
Some commentators have suggested that foreign companies that (in)directly profit from the systematic exploitation of Uyghurs in China must choose between profit and principle.
It seems like a straightforward question: do companies want to profit from the state-organised repression, exploitation and extermination of an ethnic minority, or do companies condemn the treatment of Uyghur people in China and deal with the backlash?
The conundrum underlying the question is as old as capitalism itself: what social costs are we willing to accept in order for companies to make a profit?Continue reading Why do Companies Find it so Hard to Choose Between Profit and Principle?
The Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020 is currently under consideration by the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee and a report is due by 12 May 2021.
Professor Justine Nolan and Dr Martijn Boersma have made a submission arguing that the Australian Government should:
- Expand the proposed Bill to prohibit the importation of all goods produced or manufactured using forced labour (regardless of their geographical origin).
- Consider the ability to impose fines on importers and end-buyers who import prohibit good and apply such fines for the provision of institutional support for survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.
- Ratify ILO Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (PO29) to ensure the development of holistic legislative framework that will sit alongside the Modern Slavery Act, and a new law that bans the importation of goods produced or manufactured using forced labour.
- Consider publicly disclosing which goods are prohibited from importation, as well as associated importers, manufacturers and geographical locations.
Following the United Kingdom in 2015, Australia introduced its Modern Slavery Act in 2018. The Government produced guidance documents to recognise that modern slavery sits on a continuum of exploitation and should not be addressed in isolation. It acknowledges that there is a spectrum of abuse and that it is not always clear at what point poor working practices and lack of health and safety awareness seep into instances of human trafficking, slavery or forced labour. The overarching aim of this special issue is to examine how exactly employment relationships can deteriorate into forms of labour exploitation and modern slavery. We set out to identify the key factors contributing to this process, to determine what approaches can reduce the risk of labour abuses occurring, and to discern novel ways to remediate exploitation once identified. We aim to create a better understanding of modern slavery and the employment relationship by establishing how and why workers may move along the continuum of labour exploitation.
- 25/09/2020 – Submission of abstracts to the guest editors
- 12/10/2020 – Confirmation/acceptance of abstract and invitation to submit full paper
- 31/01/ 2021 – Full paper submission for presentation at Symposium
- 02/2021 – Symposium in Sydney – alternatively a virtual symposium will be held
- 01/03/2021 – Full original papers to be submitted online to the JIR for peer review
- 28/10/2021 – Accepted papers to be finalised/submitted online to the JIR