A coalition of human rights organisations and academics has today released a new research report revealing the results of a detailed survey of nearly 90 business groups on the impact of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act. Supported by in-depth focus groups, it is the first in-depth study using both survey and focus groups to examine business responses to modern slavery in Australia.
The report Australia’s Modern Slavery Act: Is It Fit For Purpose? finds that, of the businesses surveyed:
70% support the establishment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
67% would find it easier to comply with the Modern Slavery Act if it were harmonised with international standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
61% would likely improve modern slavery responses if required to undertake human rights due diligence.
54% would likely improve modern slavery responses if financial penalties were introduced.
The research also investigated company approaches to remedying modern slavery in supply chains, finding that failing to engage stakeholders presents a major barrier to remediating modern slavery, while increased transparency between companies and their suppliers results in more effective remediation practices.
The coalition are calling on the government to strengthen the legislation by:
Requiring companies to undertake due diligence to prevent and address modern slavery in their operations and supply chains;
Introducing penalties for companies that fail to comply with the Act;
Ensuring appropriate oversight and enforcement of the Act by appointing an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Australia’s Modern Slavery Act: Is It Fit For Purpose? is the third report released in a multi-year collaborative project evaluating company responses to Australia's modern slavery reporting regime, and follows earlier reports ‘Broken Promises’ and ‘Paper Promises’.
The Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) is currently under a three-year statutory review lead by Professor John McMillan AO, which ended on 31 March 2023. The review is expected to be released publicly in coming weeks.
The research was undertaken by academics from the Australian Human Rights Institute (UNSW Sydney), Business and Human Rights Centre (RMIT), the University of Melbourne, the University of Notre Dame Australia, the University of Western Australia and Willamette University, together with the Human Rights Law Centre and the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
Associate Professor Shelley Marshall (Director, Business and Human Rights Centre, RMIT): “Both the survey and focus groups show a surprisingly strong appetite from business for reform of the Australian Modern Slavery Act and a desire for more government support and action with the creation of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
“Although the Modern Slavery Act is driving awareness of the importance for Australian business of addressing modern slavery in operations and supply chains, it is not yet improving the conditions of workers or remediating instances modern slavery.”
Professor Justine Nolan (Director, Australian Human Rights Institute, UNSW Sydney):
“Our research shows that there remains a wide gap between a company’s paper promises and implementing changes in practice. Business is generally supporting of levelling the playing field so that reforms to the Modern Slavery Act will drive more substantive responses to prevent and remedy modern slavery.”
Freya Dinshaw (Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre):
"The findings from this survey show strong support from business for strengthening the Modern Slavery Act. Right now, there is little evidence the law is driving meaningful action by companies to lift conditions for supply chain workers at high risk of exploitation.
“In order to be more effective, the Act should be amended to require companies to take action to address modern slavery risks rather than just reporting on their current practices. There must be penalties for companies that fail to comply, and robust oversight and enforcement by an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. We urge the government to use the current statutory review to make these key reforms to strengthen the law.”