Submission on forced labour in global supply chains

A ship loaded with containers stops at a port Photo: Andy Li/Unsplash

The Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020 is currently under consideration by the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee and a report is due by 12 May 2021.

The Australian Human Rights Institute’s Director, Professor Justine Nolan, together with Dr Martijn Boersma (UTS) have made a submission arguing that the Australian Government should:

 

1. Expand the proposed Bill to prohibit the importation of all goods produced or manufactured using forced labour (regardless of their geographical origin).

2. Consider the ability to impose fines on importers and end-buyers who import prohibit good and apply such fines for the provision of institutional support for survivors of trafficking and modern slavery.

3. Ratify ILO Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (PO29) to ensure the development of  holistic legislative framework that will sit alongside the Modern Slavery Act, and a new law that bans the importation of goods produced or manufactured using forced labour.

4. Consider publicly disclosing which goods are prohibited from importation, as well as associated importers, manufacturers and geographical locations.

 

An estimated 40.3 million people worldwide are trapped in a form of modern slavery and of these, 24.9 million people are estimated to be in forced labour.

That is, they are being forced to work under threat or coercion. Sixteen million victims are exploited in activities connected in the private economy.

The practice is found in emerging economies, as well as in developed countries. Forced labour is defined in the ILO Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour No. 29 (Forced Labour Convention) ii, as ‘all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily’ (ILO Convention concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour, art. 2).  

The number of industries, goods and services that are associated with forced labour is staggering. Every two years the United States Department of Labor produces a list of goods produced by child or forced labour.

In 2020, this list comprised a total of 155 goods from 77 countries. Evidence suggests that modern slavery, including forced labour, is most commonly associated with labour intensive, poorly mechanised activities, requiring a low-skilled labour force.

The goods with the most forced labour mentions by number of countries are bricks, cotton, garments, gold, sugar cane, cattle and fish. Notorious industries include the agricultural, manufacturing and mining sectors.

The proposed Bill could work in concert with the Australian Modern Slavery Act (2018) to provide more effective regulation of forced labour in global supply chains.

Click here to download the submission to the Inquiry into the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced by Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020.