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Modern Slavery Act: What businesses in Australia need to know



Australia Resource and tool Updated August 2020

Note: 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 regime defines modern slavery to incorporate conduct that would constitute an offence under existing human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like offence provisions set out in Divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code.  Modern slavery therefore encompasses slavery, servitude, the worst forms of child labour, forced labour, human trafficking, debt bondage, slavery like practices, forced marriage and deceptive recruiting for labour or services.

On 1 January 2019, the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (Commonwealth Act) commenced, heralding a new statutory modern slavery reporting requirement for larger companies operating in Australia. 

Who needs to report?

Entities will need to report under the Commonwealth Act if they are an Australian entity or carry on business in Australia with a minimum annual consolidated revenue of $100 million. 

The Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW) (NSW Act) is not yet in force and is currently subject to Parliamentary review. On 6 August 2019, the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues announced an inquiry into the NSW Act. The Committee's recommendations are due on 14 February 2020. The New South Wales Government will await these recommendations before progressing its response to modern slavery.

What does reporting entail?

Reporting obligations relate to the risk of modern slavery in the operations and supply chain of a reporting entity (and its owned and controlled entities), as well as the steps it has taken to respond to the risks identified. 

Unlike other jurisdictions, the reporting criteria in Australia are mandatory.  Reporting entities must have a reasonable basis for any opinions expressed in their Modern Slavery statement, so it is important that reporting entities take the time to assess their risk.  The reporting criteria can be found here.

What should entities do?

It is crucial that reporting entities begin reviewing their supply chains and operations to comply with the new reporting obligations.

Modern Slavery Act 6 New Years Resolutions 

What is the timing? 

A modern slavery statement must be submitted within six months after the end of the reporting entity’s financial year.  The reporting period is the entity’s first full financial year that commences after 1 January 2019. 

Entity's annual financial reporting period

First reporting period under the Commonwealth Act

Due date for statement

New, extended deadline for submission of statement

1 July to 30 June

1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020

31 December 2020

31 March 2021

1 January to 31 December

1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020

30 June 2021

Remains unchanged

1 April to 31 March

1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020

30 September 2020

31 December 2020

Lodgment and publication

Reporting entities must provide their approved modern slavery act statement to the Australian Border Force for publication on an on-line public register.

Human right due diligence: 2018 report and analysis

In 2018, Norton Rose Fulbright and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law  released 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’.

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.

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 it is likely 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 2018, the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimated:

  • 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;
  • 24,990,000 people in Asia-Pacific Region are 'enslaved' (62 per cent of all people enslaved); and
  • 15,000 people in Australia are enslaved.

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