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.
Addressing modern slavery requires more than criminalising the illegal control of or mistreatment of individuals. It necessitates a comprehensive response to the various forms of modern slavery, including human trafficking, servitude, worker exploitation, child labour, forced marriage, debt bondage, and deceptive recruitment.
Australia has recognised this challenge and has implemented a range of laws, programs, networks, and support services to tackle it head-on. One key component of Australia’s response is the Modern Slavery Act 2018, which focuses on transparency reporting. This legislation mandates large businesses and entities operating in Australia to submit an annual statement to the government, outlining the actions they are taking to address modern slavery risks within their domestic and global operations and supply chains.
To promote transparency and accountability, these statements are made available to the public through the Modern Slavery Statements Register. As of early 2023, the Register has published over 7,000 statements from nearly 8,000 entities headquartered in more than 50 countries. This government-run register is the first of its kind internationally and has already garnered significant attention.
In accordance with the Modern Slavery Act, a review was initiated three years after its commencement, starting on March 31, 2022. The review aimed to assess the effectiveness of the Act in combating modern slavery and explore potential improvements to its framework and administration. It also sought to evaluate whether the law was being taken seriously and effectively implemented. Below you can find a summary of the review and recommendations, as well as the full list of recommendations made.
The latest analysis reveals the disturbing reality that modern slavery continues to imprison millions globally, inclusive of upwards of 41,000 individuals in Australia. In its most recent publication, the Walk Free Global Slavery Index reports that 50 million individuals – with 12 million being children – are ensnared in contemporary forms of slavery, predominantly via forced labour and enforced marriages.
Our consumer-driven society is fuelling this disturbing trade in human suffering. Nations including the United States, England, Germany, and Australia are making substantial purchases of electronics, garments, and textiles, which are largely sustained through forced labour. Sweatshops exploit children by compelling them to toil for about 15 hours daily, remunerating them a mere AU$3, within confines akin to a jail cell.
Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, Freya Dinshaw, points out a shocking fact. She said, “What Australian consumers might not realise is that 80% of the cotton China produces that ends up in clothing that Australians buy, comes from forced labour camps in Xinjiang.” Despite Australia being recognised as one of the top three nations battling modern slavery, its system leaves much to be desired.
Dr Martijn Boersma, an expert on modern slavery, commented, “The Australian Modern Slavery Act asks companies…to address the risks in operations and supply chains and basically report on those actions and the progress they have made.” Nevertheless, experts are calling for Australia to implement even more stringent measures. As Dr Boersma suggests, “What we need is for the government to step in, for example by introducing financial penalties for non-compliance.”
The purpose of this resource is to offer a comprehensive overview of global human rights due diligence legislation, including both proposed and enacted laws. Initially created for the Australian Cotton Industry, this document is also valuable for policymakers, industry professionals, civil society, and scholars interested in understanding trends in human rights due diligence, comparing legislation across countries, and estimating anticipated changes for businesses operating in Australia.
The Growing Focus on Mandatory Due Diligence
Over the past few decades, there has been heightened scrutiny on the societal impacts of businesses. International organizations have developed non-binding guidelines and recommendations since the 1970s, acknowledging companies’ responsibility to uphold human rights and implement due diligence across supply chains. However, these voluntary international agreements have fallen short in effectively safeguarding human rights within commercial supply chains. Consequently, governments have experienced increasing pressure to incorporate these guidelines into domestic legislation.
In recent years, there has been a notable increase in country-level due diligence legislation, inspired by guidelines from international organizations. Examples of such legislation include the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010, the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, the French Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law 2017, and the Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018. Our analysis highlights the rapid development of due diligence legislation, with numerous drafts currently under parliamentary discussion. Critics have voiced concerns regarding the nature of these reforms, citing lenient penalties, weak requirements, and a limited scope of businesses affected. Despite these criticisms, the growing prevalence of domestic due diligence legislation demonstrates its potential to pave the way for significant change.
Key trends in human rights due diligence legislation:
- Increasing robustness: New legally binding regulatory frameworks are becoming increasingly more robust, with the expectation that mandatory due diligence across supply chains will be the end result.
- Expanding expectations: There is a growing expectation for small and medium-sized businesses to incorporate aspects of due diligence, as seen in the Aotearoa New Zealand proposal and Canadian Modern Slavery Act.
- Industry-specific legislation: Laws targeting specific industries have emerged, such as the New York Fashion Act and the US FABRIC Act.
- Broadening scope : Some proposals extend the scope of workplace violations to include worker exploitation, as in the Aotearoa New Zealand proposal.
- Legal redress for victims: Certain laws provide opportunities for victims to seek legal redress, as in the Dutch Child Labor Law.
- Increased fines and penalties: Some acts impose higher fines and penalties, such as the US Uyghur Forced Labor Act and the German Act on Corporate Due Diligence.
These trends indicate a global shift towards stronger and more comprehensive human rights due diligence legislation, emphasising the importance of businesses in upholding human rights and promoting sustainability across their supply chains.
A new report, Broken Promises: Two years of corporate reporting under Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, examines the second year of corporate statements submitted to the Government’s Modern Slavery Register by 92 companies sourcing from four sectors with known risks of modern slavery: garments from China, rubber gloves from Malaysia, seafood from Thailand and fresh produce from Australia.
It finds that:
- 66% of companies reviewed (down from 77% in the first year) are still failing to comply with the basic reporting requirements mandated by the legislation, with some companies not submitting reports at all;
- Over half (56%) of the commitments made by companies in the first year of reporting to improve their modern slavery response remained unfulfilled based on their second year statements;
- 43% of companies reviewed (down from 52% in the first year) are still failing to identify obvious modern slavery risks in their supply chains;
- There is a mere 6% increase in the number of companies appearing to be taking some form of effective action to address modern slavery risks, with two in three companies still failing to act.
This study examines how the risk of labour standards noncompliance can be rendered calculable and commensurable through a market device. We present a case study of the Cleaning Accountability Framework (CAF), an industry certification scheme, which seeks to address labour exploitation in the Australian contract cleaning industry. We pay particular attention to the central device of the certification scheme – the pricing schedule. We examine how the pricing schedule shaped the calculative space informing contracting parties during the procurement process. In doing so, the pricing schedule increased transparency around the potential risk of labour standards noncompliance. The nature of this transparency and the perceived objectivity of the pricing schedule acted to reshape the market for contract cleaning, resulting in a redistribution of accountability for labour exploitation. We also examine how the pricing schedule formed part of a wider framework of accountability, and how these mechanisms enabled strategic co-enforcement of labour standards compliance by supply chain stakeholders. Overall, our study indicates the potential for accounting practices to play a more active role in shaping how markets address modern slavery risks.
This briefing session brings together academic experts in the fields of modern slavery, labour law compliance, supply chain due diligence and temporary migrant workers, to share insights and advice on how universities can demonstrate leadership in promoting good labour practices. The aim of this briefing is to assist relevant stakeholders in the higher education sector to understand their role in promoting good labour practices, and provide guidance on practically how to do this. This briefing is aimed at professionals working in university procurement and contract management, university modern slavery working groups, university risk and compliance, cleaning and security contractors that currently hold contracts at university campuses.
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.