Modern Slavery Bill: Will a Race to the Top Beat a Big Stick?
4 July 2018 at 8:46 am
Penalties in the Modern Slavery Bill are unlikely to drive compliance for big business, there is another way, a “race to the top”, the federal government says.
Under the bill, introduced to Parliament last week by Assistant Minister for Home Affairs Alex Hawke, businesses with turnovers of at least $100 million would need to publicly declare what they are doing to stop modern slavery in their supply chains.
The laws are expected to impact 3,000 companies operating in Australia. As well, under the laws an annual statement would be published highlighting modern slavery risks in the public sector.
The bill was under attack from a chorus of critics, led by the ACTU and Oxfam, because contrary to recommendations from an earlier inquiry it failed to include provision for penalties.
Hawke’s office responded to the criticism saying the bill was intended to support businesses to combat modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
“Business feedback indicates the primary driver for compliance will be investor pressure and reputational costs and benefits,” a spokeswoman for the assistant minister told Pro Bono Australia.
“This will drive compliance more effectively than legislated penalties and encourage a business-led ‘race to the top’.
“The likely quantum of any penalties would also be unlikely to change business behaviour.”
Hawke’s spokeswoman also said the bill was not intended to respond to all the recommendations made by the earlier parliamentary inquiry into modern slavery.
“The government is carefully considering these recommendations and will respond in due course,” she said.
ACTU boss Sally McManus said the bill lacked the necessary enforcement measures to ensure companies investigated and acted on the presence of slavery in their supply chains, and a lack of fines or any penalties made it a voluntary scheme by default.
“The Turnbull government’s proposal lacks important tools that could be used in this act to fight modern slavery and make companies take action,” McManus said.
“Under this bill, companies that don’t attempt to report what they have done to deal with slavery in their supply chains face no penalties.
“This sends the message that that they can get away with not taking this issue seriously.”
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.
“While a strong Modern Slavery Bill will not address every human rights violation in the supply chains of big Australian companies – it will send a strong message to brands that this is not the way to get ahead,” Kyriacou said.
“The Modern Slavery Bill must be amended, in order to make it stronger and to send this message loud and clear.”
Studies have shown the main problems within Australia are sex trafficking, arranged marriages and unscrupulous employers and labour agencies recruiting men and women from Asia and Pacific Islands for agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic service.
More than 40 million people worldwide were believed to be victims of “modern slavery”, which covers such things as forced labour, child labour, people trafficking, debt bondage, and the sale of or sexual exploitation of children.
How many slaves do you have?
Take the quiz created by Slavery Footprint, an interactive questionnaire which tells you how many slaves you have worldwide, based on your lifestyle, what you own, wear and eat.