Opinion: Modern Slavery Bill significant - but not as strong as it should be

Australia's Parliament House Photo: Social Estate/Unsplash

By Associate Professor Justine Nolan


The Modern Slavery Bill introduced into the Australian parliament today is a significant step in linking business with their responsibility to respect basic human rights.


The law will require organisations with a turnover of $100 million or more to publish an annual public statement outlining the risks of modern slavery its supply chain.


This means more than 3,000 companies and the Australian Government will have to investigate, and report on, possible modern slavery risks in their supply chains.


Workers, both in Australia and abroad, at the bottom of long corporate supply chains endure harsh working conditions including long hours, wage theft, repressive working environments, and in some circumstances, such conditions amount to what is now called modern slavery.


The risks are real - not abstract - and this Australian proposal follows international trends, including laws in the UK, France and the US, to increase transparency about working conditions in supply chains.


While the Bill is significant, it is also not as strong as it should be. The Government proposes no sanctions for companies that fail to report.


There are no fines and enforcement is largely left to the public to ‘name and shame’ companies into complying with their reporting requirement. 


This is an opportunity for organisations to take this reporting obligation seriously and publish reports that are the result of significant due diligence that identifies, tracks and monitors potential problems in the supply chain.


Without sanctions, there is a danger of organisations failing to report, or only cosmetically complying with their reporting obligations, but not working to really identify and remedy the issues.