The federal Modern Slavery Act has passed the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said that changes to the Modern Slavery Bill passed by the Senate would see Australia take a meaningful step in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery.
“The strengthening of the proposed legislation is to be applauded – the Senate has listened to calls for tougher laws that will significantly improve the way modern slavery is combated in the supply chains of Australian businesses and organisations.
The legislation means that companies will need to provide a statement on what steps they are taking to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery.
The Senate made changes to the Bill that will ensure that the responsible Minister has additional powers to request an explanation from entities that fail to report or comply, to ask for remedial action and to publish information about failed compliance.
There will now be an annual report to the Parliament on the level of compliance with the Act, and the Morrison Liberal Government has confirmed that a list will be created of the entities that need to report.
However, Dr Szoke noted that Oxfam were disappointed that proposals to appoint an Independent anti-slavery commissioner or advisor were not heeded.
The Bill still does not include penalties for non-compliance, which Oxfam and Stop The Traffik suggest would help ensure that companies report. Amendments passed in the Senate mean that the potential need for civil penalties is reviewed as a part of a mandated three-year review of the legislation.
Dr Szoke said that it was important that the government “does not rest on its laurels.”
“The amended legislation must now to be taken back to the House of Representatives as a matter of urgency. This legislation needs to be passed before the end of the parliamentary year, so that the laws can be brought into effect.
“There is no excuse for any continued tolerance of the scourge of modern slavery in the supply chains of Australian organisations.
“These proposed laws are a welcome opportunity for Australia to take a leading role in the global battle to stamp out systemic exploitation, which is leaving millions of people in entrenched poverty.”
Modern slavery takes a number of forms, including bonded labour. It is estimated to affect more than 40 million people around the world.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor
Photo courtesy: Oxfam