Australia: "Modern Slavery" proposal lacks concrete requirements, broad application & effective enforcement strategies

Author: Komala Ramachandra, Human Rights Watch, Published on: 5 September 2017

In mid-August Australia’s justice minister proposed a new law requiring the country’s biggest companies to report on their practices and policies to prevent forced labour in their operations and supply chains... It is a laudable goal, but the steps they’ve taken are inadequate.

The proposed law builds on the Australian government’s existing commitments to combat modern forms of slavery... Notably, it requests information on due diligence – the processes that companies use to identify, monitor, and address ‘slavery-like’ practices or the risk of these occurring. Mandatory reporting on these subjects is an important first step in promoting transparency and fostering accountability...

[However, the proposal has limitations that will prevent it from being effective.]

[First] the government’s proposal [is devoid of] due diligence requirements or penalties for noncompliance. [Without those] the law is little more than a suggestion for voluntary action...

[Second] [t]he government wants the law to apply only to the largest companies – those with annual revenues of AU$100 million or more – instead of looking at industries or companies where these problems are most prevalent, regardless of size...

[Lastly] [t]he government doesn’t plan to apply these standards to its own purchasing, and so will not insist on sourcing goods from companies that comply with Australia’s anti-slavery laws...

The final version of the law must still be hammered out by the Australian government. Officials will consult with businesses, nongovernmental groups, and the public to produce a final proposal. The government will most likely hear conflicting perspectives in this process, but the goals should be clear: effectively combatting any practices that amount to slavery and ensuring responsible supply chains...

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