Modern Slavery Act: What businesses in Australia need to know

Authors: Abigail McGregor, JP Wood Publication | May 2018

The Australian federal parliament will consider a new Modern Slavery Act (MSA) this year, with legislation expected to be passed in the second half of 2018. It is therefore crucial that affected businesses begin reviewing their supply chains and collecting data ahead of the introduction of reporting obligations in 2019.

At its broadest, the term 'modern slavery' refers to any situations of exploitation where a person cannot refuse or leave work because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. The Australian government proposes that for the purpose of the reporting requirement, modern slavery will be defined to incorporate conduct that would constitute a relevant offence under existing human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like offence provisions set out in Divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

This will mean modern slavery will encompass slavery, servitude, forced labour, debt bondage, and deceptive recruiting for labour or services. The government proposes to exclude practices, such as forced marriage, that they regard as unlikely to be present in business operations and supply chains.

The businesses that will likely be affected are those operating in Australia with a minimum annual revenue of $100 million.

A targeted regulatory regime will be introduced, under which large businesses will report annually in relation to their actions to address modern slavery against a set of minimum criteria. The government also proposes a central repository of the annual statements.

Read our analysis on how the MSA has evolved in this article: Path to an Australian Modern Slavery Act

What are the statistics?

Many Australian businesses may be unaware of the risk that they have slavery in their business or supply chains. Statistically, the incidence of modern slavery within Australia appears to be relatively low, but the concern is that the statistics reflect a low level of awareness of the issues, and the actual incidence may be much higher, both domestically and overseas.

As at September 2017, the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimates:

  • in excess of 40 million people globally are subject to some form of modern slavery and collectively approximately US$150 billion per year is generated in the global private economy from forced labour alone;
  • 30,435,300 people in Asia-Pacific Region are 'enslaved' (66.4 per cent of all people enslaved); and
  • 4,300 people in Australia are enslaved.

Human right due diligence: 2018 report and analysis

Norton Rose Fulbright and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) recently announced the launch of the results of our human rights due diligence (HRDD) in supply chains project and published a report entitled ‘Making sense of managing human rights issues in supply chains’.

Human rights due diligence  
Supply chain HRDD is best understood as an ongoing, dynamic and context-specific process which is depicted in the diagram forming the central point of our report.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of the legal and regulatory framework relevant to the management of human rights issues in supply chains, discusses the components of human rights due diligence in supply chains and sets out observations of current practice and best practice recommendations. Access the report along with a summary of the findings here.

Read our latest articles

Stay up to date with our latest commentary and analysis on the Modern Slavery Act.

Renewable energy, rechargeable batteries and cobalt: clean, renewable, but what about modern slavery?  Approval of the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 

Modern Slavery Act introduced by Commonwealth Government Modern Slavery Act legislation passed in NSW  Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking reporting Modern slavery for reporting  Human trafficking   Parliamentary report   Agribusiness  Reporting  Australia Indonesia  Construction  Submission


JP Wood

JP Wood

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