Calls for NSW government to urgently enforce Modern Slavery Act
21 July 2020 at 5:06 pm
Advocates believe charities also have a role to play in stamping out modern slavery
More than 117 organisations, academics, lawyers, community and faith leaders have signed an open letter urging the New South Wales government to enforce the state’s Modern Slavery Act, which is yet to be implemented despite unanimously passing Parliament two years ago.
The NSW Modern Slavery Act requires companies with a turnover of more than $50 million to publicly report modern slavery statements, including details of the steps taken to eliminate slavery from their supply chains.
Rather than enact the legislation when it passed in June 2018, the NSW government took the unusual step of referring it to a further parliamentary inquiry.
The inquiry recommended in March this year that the laws be amended slightly and enacted by 1 January 2021 – but the government is currently still considering the findings.
The open letter calls on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to commit to enforcing the bill by this deadline, warning that further delays will increase the numbers of vulnerable people trapped in modern slavery amid the impacts of COVID-19.
Jane Jeffes, from the War on Slavery, said millions more people have been caught up in modern slavery since the act was passed.
“That simply should not have happened or been allowed to happen,” Jeffes said.
“Other states are now looking at legislation that will strengthen Australia’s fight against modern slavery and we fail to understand why the NSW government hasn’t put the NSW Act into force as a source of pride.”
Carolyn Kitto, from Be Slavery Free, told Pro Bono News she was unsure why the act had yet to be enforced.
“It’s been passed by two houses of Parliament and given royal assent. It had an inquiry, which recommended that it proceed. And yet it’s still not in effect,” Kitto said.
“What we hope is not happening is that there’s external lobbying pressure or factions within the party that are driving this.”
But Kitto said the NSW anti-slavery laws were much stronger, going as far as to label them the “strongest legislation in the world”.
The federal Modern Slavery Act conversely has a higher reporting threshold of $100 million, does not include the appointment of an anti-slavery commissioner, and does not hold state governments accountable for their procurement decisions.
“The federal act is essentially a transparency and supply chains act, so it doesn’t include things like support for victims, education for the community etc.,” Kitto said.
“We think the [NSW act] should be a source of pride and something that the people of New South Wales and the government get on board with.
“This movement to address modern slavery is happening all over the world. And instead of leading the pack, New South Wales risks falling well behind.”
Kitto added that Australian charities also had a role to play in stamping out modern slavery.
She encouraged charities to not only support the anti-slavery movement, but also look to address modern slavery risks in their own organisation.
“There will be some charities in Australia that need to report on this. And so they should be doing that enthusiastically and informing their supporters about it,” she said.
“But there’s also a voluntary component to it… and we think it’s important for charities that aren’t included in the threshold to voluntarily put out a modern slavery statement.”