Advocates say forced labour ban needed in the fight against modern slavery
30 August 2021 at 5:19 pm
“We should all be able to have confidence that the goods we purchase are not made at the expense of other peoples’ freedom”
Anti-slavery advocates are hopeful they can win Coalition support for legislation banning the importation of goods made with forced labour, amid concerns current laws aren’t strong enough to stamp out modern slavery in business supply chains.
The Senate last week passed The Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021, which was proposed by independent senator Rex Patrick.
The bill prohibits the importation of goods produced or manufactured, in whole or in part, through the use of forced labour. This would mean imported forced labour products were subject to the same penalties as other prohibited items such as firearms and pornography.
Enforcing the ban may require giving the Australia Border Force greater resources to conduct investigations.
Read more: Senate’s vote to ban slave-made imports shows the weakness of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act
Social sector leaders welcomed the bill’s passage through the Senate.
Freya Dinshaw, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said it was a big step forward in the fight against modern slavery.
“[This] vote puts us one step closer to ensuring Australian companies, and therefore consumers, are not fuelling forced labour overseas,” Dinshaw said.
“We should all be able to have confidence that the goods we purchase are not made at the expense of other peoples’ freedom.”
While the bill passed in the Senate without the vote of the Coalition, it will now need to win the government’s support to pass the lower house and become law.
Advocates are hopeful they can win the government’s vote, with Liberal senator Eric Abetz admitting it was “a bill worthy of consideration and support in principle”.
But the government fears that businesses may struggle to understand how to uncover modern slavery in their supply chains, and wants more scrutiny of the bill.
Carolyn Kitto, co-director of Be Slavery Free, told Pro Bono News that advocates were committed to winning Coalition support for the legislation.
She noted that the Senate committee examining the bill – which supported a forced labour ban – was chaired by Abetz and had two other Coalition members.
“The concerns that were expressed in the debate was that there was not enough detail in the bill. They put up some amendments that had more detail,” Kitto said.
“And we hope that those ongoing discussions about detail will be part of the discussion in the House of Representatives.”
Advocates say this bill will help with the enforcement of Australia’s first federal Modern Slavery Act that passed in December 2018.
This law requires businesses with turnovers of more than $100 million to annually report action taken to stamp out slavery in their supply chains.
But there are no real penalties for non-compliance, something Kitto said must be addressed when the mandatory three-year review of the bill occurs.
“[Without penalties] it’s a little bit like saying, ‘well, you need to pay your taxes in Australia. But if you don’t, we’re not going to do anything about it’,” she said.
“So we think that in the review that is coming up, there does need to be a re-look at penalties.
“It was probably okay not to have it in the first three years, but now penalties for non-compliance in reporting are really important.”