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Reflections on the Australian Modern Slavery Act and Beyond

Collaborating partner: RMIT University 

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Series guest editor: Ben Debney 



The Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018 is a big step towards putting human rights at the heart of business. It represents an important advancement for business and human rights, both regionally and further afield. The Act requires more than 3000 businesses and other entities to publish annual statements on actions to address modern slavery in their operations and supply chains on a Government-administered public register. The impacts of this new law are being felt not only in Australia but across the wider Asia-Pacific region, as well as in Europe and the Americas where similar legislative developments have either commenced, or are planned.

In late November 2018, the Australian Modern Slavery Bill reached the final stages of the legislative process, being passed by the Australian Senate on 28 November, with the Government's amendments approved. Following a repeat passage through the House of Representatives on 29 November the Bill became law on 1 January 2019. Coinciding with the Bill's passage, three significant events were convened in Australia each examining, through a different lens, the role the Australian Modern Slavery Act will play in addressing breaches of human rights by business, and potential additional tools: (1) Australian Dialogue on Business and Human Rights; (2) UN Consultation on business and human rights, ‘through the gender lens’; and (3) Beyond Guidelines: Future Directions for Business & Human Rights in Australia. The Australian Dialogue is primarily a business orientated event, the Gender Lens event brought a specifically gendered analysis to the impacts of business and Beyond Guidelines was convened to advance civil society interests.

In this curated blog series, we draw on these different perspectives to reflect broadly on Australia's new Modern Slavery Act and its implications for Australian businesses and investors, civil society and supply chain workers harmed by corporate practices. In this series expert authors, drawn from a range of backgrounds, reflect on the Act and:

  • consider the provisions and goals of the Modern Slavery Act, reflecting on its strengths and potential limitations;
  • provide insights into the Modern Slavery Act’s development process, including lessons learned which may be applied in other countries contemplating similar legislation;
  • consider ways in which the Modern Slavery Act can be leveraged and its impact enhanced to drive fairer work in global supply chains; and
  • propose next steps and potential tools for building on the advancements achieved by the Modern Slavery Act in the future.

Any views expressed by blog contributors are personal to the authors and not the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.

To read more about the process leading up to the enactment of the Australian Modern Slavery Act, explore our in-depth area on Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.


The Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018  – will it live up to expectations?

The new Australian Act is an important transparency tool. It will yield information that can be used by both business and others, including investors, civil society and consumers, to drive and measure improvements in corporate practices to address modern slavery. 

Amy Sinclair, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Justine Nolan, Associate Professor & Associate Dean (Academic) Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney


Dr Jolyon Ford

Can consumers and market actors ‘regulate’ corporate reporting on Modern Slavery risk?

Australia’s pending federal statutory requirement for corporate reporting on modern slavery risks relies on non-governmental societal forces to drive and police corporate compliance. Firms’ exposure or interest in reputational factors are then key in this compliance logic. We need to test the proposition that reputational risk is a sufficient motivator.  

Dr. Jolyon Ford, Associate Professor of Law at the Australian National University


Dr Louise Chappell

The spotlight shifts to gender, business and human rights

While good reasons abound to celebrate the Australian Parliament’s passage of the Modern Slavery Act in November 2018, its consideration of gender issues was not one of them.  The Act is a missed opportunity to clearly explicate gender-based rights violations in modern slavery practices, to provide guidance on appropriate remedy for such violations or, at a minimum, to specify the need for gender-disaggregated reporting.

Dr. Louise Chappell, Professor and Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW Sydney.


Måns Carlsson-Sweeny

Modern slavery is more than an ‘ethical issue’ to investors

Modern Slavery isn’t just a legal issue, it is of increasing importance to investors. The Sustainable Development Goals include an aim to eradicate slavery by 2030. This means regulatory attention focused on modern slavery will likely increase. The UK Modern Slavery Act, introduced in 2015, followed by the Australian Modern Slavery Act in 2018, are likely just the beginning.

Måns Carlsson-Sweeny, Head of ESG Research at Ausbil Investment Management Limited.


Ingrid LandauShelley Marshall

What are we missing by focusing on modern slavery?

As this blog series has been celebrating, we now have NSW and Commonwealth Modern Slavery Acts. As we reach half way in this blog series, we wanted to examine why this form of exploitation is attracting more concern and attention than other equally egregious breaches of labour rights, such as death and serious injury, or low wages.

Ingrid Landau, Lecturer in the Department of Business Law and Taxation at Monash University.
Dr Shelley Marshall, Senior Research Fellow in the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT University.


Can the Australian Modern Slavery Act offer the meaningful protections labour needs?

The transparency requirement of the Australian Modern Slavery Act needs to be recognised for what it is: a dressed-up CSR scheme that doesn’t make companies actually take action. In order to get serious about dealing with this global scourge we must campaign for better laws that actually force companies to act.

Andrea Maksimovic, Associate Director of International and Civil Society at the Australian Council of Trade Unions.


Modern Slavery Act: Does Business Realise What It’s Asking For?

At a recent conference, international business colleagues asked why Australian businesses had been so vocal in their support of the Modern Slavery Act when business generally shies away from regulation. These questions were not new; my answers were straightforward.

Vanessa Zimmerman, CEO, Pillar Two.


From the Modern Slavery Act to binding rules on corporations

Ongoing serious human rights abuses feature in the overseas operations of many prominent Australian-based multinationals. They leverage the fact that many are richer and more powerful than the states that seek to regulate them. We must work to hold these corporations to account. The Modern Slavery Act needs to be strengthened.

Sam Cossar-Gilbert, Coordinator, Friends of the Earth International.


Heather Moore

Good modern slavery policy, more than the sum of its parts

Though potentially obvious to some readers, a good law is more than the sum of its parts; such, hopefully, are based on the best possible set of ideas grounded with evidence. A good law is also one that has been designed in a way that it can be effectively implemented to realise its purpose, and can be measured to determine whether it succeeded in doing so.

Heather Moore, Managing Director, Trafficking and Slavery Research Group, School of Social Sciences, Monash University.