The Australian Government has commenced an inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.
The proposed legislation, guided by the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015,would address exploitative practices of modern slavery including forced marriage, debt bondage, and employment conditions that breach basic human rights such as wage exploitation and human trafficking. The inquiry would also investigate modern slavery in the Australian and international supply chains of businesses operating in Australia – an issue that affects all consumers, organisations and government purchasers.
In the first of this two-part series, we define what modern slavery is and outline the Australian Government’s inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. In part 2, we discuss Global Compact Network Australia’s Modern Slavery Forum, held 8 April 2017 in Sydney and featuring some important voices in the modern slavery discussion including Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation, and Chris Crewther MP, Chair, Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (which is conducting the inquiry into an Australian Modern Slavery Act).
What is modern slavery?
Modern slavery results from a complex interaction of factors. It exploits vulnerable populations who have little or no human rights protection, lack safe and secure environments, and have difficulty accessing food, water and health care. Such conditions can be the result of factors such as conflict, displacement, economic hardship and patterns of migration – or a combination of these.
Complex and fragmented global supply chains make it difficult to track the processes involved in the production and distribution of commodities, and without best practice supply chain management, modern slavery thrives. Low wages offer fiscal advantage to business, and give consumers access to greater choice and cheaper products.
‘The appalling practice of modern slavery is a scourge that regrettably continues to affect millions of people around the world, including in Australia,’ Mr Chris Crewther MP, said recently.
According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, released in May 2016 by the Australian-based human rights group, Walk Free Foundation, there is an estimated 45.8 million people subjected to some form of modern slavery in the world. In 2014, that figure was 35.8 million.
The Index reported cases of slavery in all 167 countries surveyed (including Australia), with the top five countries – India (18.35 million), China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million) – accounting for almost 58 per cent of the “world’s enslaved”. North Korea had the “highest incidence (4.37 per cent of the population) and the weakest government response.”
In Australia, stories reporting the alarming presence of breaches in basic human rights in the workplace have been gaining traction. A 2015 Four Corners investigation found ‘migrant workers from Asia and Europe… being routinely abused, harassed and assaulted at work’ (ABC).
Similarly, Giri Sivaraman’s observation in his July 2016 piece Stronger protections needed to stop cycle of abuse among underpaid workers (SBS) further highlighted an urgent need to address labour exploitation and supply chain management in Australia. Wrote Sivaraman: “Worker mistreatment is becoming an all-too-common horror story in Australia. From agriculture to hospitality, retail, construction and everything in between, the increasing pervasive control of corporations over vulnerable workers show that better protections are needed.”
Australia’s response to modern slavery
So far, the Australian Government has toughened penalties for offenders and in 2014, established the Supply Chains Working Group to ‘examine ways to address exploitative practices in the supply chains of goods and services’. This ultimately led to the development and implementation of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015-2019.
The inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia is the next step in strengthening Australia’s response to modern slavery, a move welcomed by Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA).
‘The Attorney-General’s action in approving this important topic… provides the opportunity to explore whether Australia’s laws could be improved to prevent modern slavery both in Australia and in supply chains of businesses and organisations that operate in Australia and overseas,’ Mr Chris Crewther MP, said.
As stated in the Parliament of Australia’s Combatting Modern Slavery media release, the Committee shall address:
1. The nature and extent of modern slavery (including slavery, forced labour and wage exploitation, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced marriage and other slavery-like exploitation) both in Australia and globally;
2. The prevalence of modern slavery in the domestic and global supply chains of companies, businesses and organisations operating in Australia;
3. Identifying international best practice employed by governments, companies, businesses and organisations to prevent modern slavery in domestic and global supply chains, with a view to strengthening Australian legislation;
4. The implications for Australia’s visa regime, and conformity with the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children regarding federal compensation for victims of modern slavery;
5. Provisions in the United Kingdom’s legislation which have proven effective in addressing modern slavery, and whether similar or improved measures should be introduced in Australia;
6. Whether a Modern Slavery Act should be introduced in Australia; and
7. Any other related matters.
Have your say
The Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee invites anyone with an interest in these matters to lodge a submission by addressing the terms of reference by 28 April 2017.
For further information about the inquiry, including how to lodge a submission, please visit the Committee’s website or contact the Committee Secretariat on (02) 6277 2313, email firstname.lastname@example.org and web: www.aph.gov.au/jfadt.
For more on the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 see the CourtHeath blog Where does slavery stop and start (May 2016).
You can read the CIPS guide Tackling Modern Slavery in Supply Chains or find out about their Ethical Procurement and Supply e-learning course here.
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A participant in the UN Global Compact, CourtHeath seeks to raise awareness about the sustainable development goals and the principles of the Global Compact with business and government organisations in Victoria. The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour and the effective abolition of child labour are two of the ten principles of the Global Compact. The Global Compact repudiates slavery and child labour internationally.
IMAGE: Used under licence from shutterstock.com
Written by Wendy Cavenett
[category courtheath's blog]
[modern slavery, supply chains, Global Compact]