New Anti-Slavery Bill Introduced to Federal Parliament

Friday 13 July 2018 @ 10.49 a.m. | Legal Research | Trade & Commerce

On 28 June 2018, the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (the “Bill”) was introduced to the House of Representatives by the Hon Alex Hawke MP (Assistant Minister for Home Affairs), where on the same day, it was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee ("the Committee"). The Committee is due to report by 24 August 2018.


The Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum indicates the aim of the Bill is:

“… [to] establish a Modern Slavery Reporting Requirement. This will require certain large businesses and other entities in Australia to make annual public reports (‘Modern Slavery Statements’) on their actions to address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains …”

The Bill will apply to organisations with revenue over $100 million per financial year.

Current Reporting Methods

According to the EM, there is currently no formal mechanism in Australia that directly targets modern slavery in business operations and supply chains, or supports the business community to take action to address modern slavery. The Bill will support large businesses to identify and address modern slavery risks and to develop and maintain responsible and transparent supply chains.

The New Reporting Requirement

The Modern Slavery Reporting Requirement requires reporting entities to provide annual Modern Slavery Statements to the responsible Minister to be published online on a central register, with the primary objective of the Bill:

“… to assist the business community in Australia to take proactive and effective actions to address modern slavery. This will help mitigate the risk of modern slavery practices occurring in the supply chains of goods and services in the Australian market.”

A Statement must cover mandatory criteria by describing:

  • the entity’s structure, operations and supply chains;
  • the potential modern slavery risks in the entity’s operations and supply chains;
  • actions the entity has taken to assess and address those risks, including due diligence and remediation processes; and
  • how the entity assesses the effectiveness of those actions.

What is Modern Slavery?

The Bill defines “modern slavery” on page 4 of the Bill as:

“…conduct which would constitute:

(a) an offence under Division 270 or 271 of the Criminal Code; or

(b) an offence under either of those Divisions if the conduct took place in Australia; or

(c) trafficking in persons, as defined in Article 3 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children …; or

(d) the worst forms of child labour, as defined in Article 3 of the ILO Convention (No. 182) …”

Comment on the Bill

In the Minister’s Second Reading Speech,  given before the House of Representatives on 28 June 2018, the Minister commented:

“… This bill will strengthen Australia's response to modern slavery by establishing a modern slavery reporting requirement. This significant initiative will shine a light into the shadows of global supply chains where modern slavery thrives. It will require large businesses to be transparent about their modern slavery risks and how they are being addressed. The government will also lead by example by considering possible modern slavery risks in our own procurement. This bill will send a clear message that modern slavery is unacceptable in the supply chains of all of our goods and services.”

Reaction to the Bill

The Guardian Australia has reported that anti-slavery and civil society groups have welcomed the introduction of the Bill, with the hope that it will address the issue of modern slavery in supply chains.

Some campaigners have raised concerns there are no penalties involved for companies who breach the Act.  The Guardian Australia reports that Oxfam Australia’s Economic Policy Adviser, Joy Kyriacou said the Bill should include penalties for companies that fail to report, or report misleading information on, the steps they have taken to combat modern slavery.

The Shadow Minister for Justice, Clare O’Neil MP welcomed the Bill, but also said she was “deeply disappointed” at the absence of penalties for companies that breach the act.

Ms O’Neil commented further:

“We shouldn’t be leaving it to business to police themselves on slavery … We are also baffled by the government’s decision to set up a business engagement unit to ‘support businesses’, rather than an independent anti-slavery commissioner to help victims ...”

Also speaking with the Guardian Australia, anti-slavery advocate Alison Rahill said it was a momentous day:

“… this has got to be the ‘turning point’ … This is the conversation I’ve been having across the country in regional Australia, in the horticultural and agricultural regions, the ground zero for exploitation … Now, this is recognition from the top, from federal parliament, that these things are happening and they must stop.”

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Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (Cth) - Bill and supporting information available from TimeBase's LawOne Service.

Modern slavery bill welcomed, but no penalties for breaching act (Gareth Hutchens and Ben Doherty, The Guardian Australia, 28 June 2018)

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