Australian companies are failing to comply with modern slavery laws
14 February 2022 at 4:21 pm
A coalition of human rights organisations is calling on the federal government to strengthen Australia’s modern slavery laws after the release of a damning new report
A tougher stance is needed on Australian companies found to be non-compliant with the country’s Modern Slavery Act, says a new report.
The Paper Promises? Evaluating the early impact of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act report, led by the Human Rights Law Centre, found that many Australian companies are failing to identify obvious risks of forced labour in their supply chains or take action to address them.
The report examined statements submitted to the government’s Modern Slavery Register by 102 companies. The statements sourced were from four business sectors with known risks of modern slavery, including garments from China, rubber gloves from Malaysia, seafood from Thailand and fresh produce from Australia.
It found that 77 per cent of companies reviewed had failed to comply with the basic reporting requirements mandated by the legislation, 52 per cent had failed to identify obvious modern slavery risks in their operations or supply chains and just 27 per cent of companies appeared to be taking some form of effective action to address modern slavery risks.
Australia’s lowest-scoring companies included Lite & Easy, Drakes Supermarkets and Clifford Hallam Healthcare, while the highest-scoring included Woolworths, Coles and Kathmandu.
The statements companies have to submit are a condition of Australia’s modern slavery reporting regime, introduced as part of the 2018 Modern Slavery Act.
The Modern Slavery Act requires companies with an annual turnover of over $100 million to submit an annual modern slavery statement. The statement has to describe the risks of modern slavery within their operations and supply chain, and the measures they’re taking to address those risks.
Freya Dinshaw is a lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre and, alongside Amy Sinclair, a business and human rights specialist co-authored the report.
Dinshaw said that when the Modern Slavery Act was first introduced it was meant to drive a “race to the top” by businesses to address modern slavery in global supply chains, however, the Paper Promises report shows that most companies have barely left the starting blocks.
“Many companies have published modern slavery statements,” she said. “But when you drill down into the details, many aren’t even at the point of identifying the most obvious risk areas in their supply chains, let alone taking meaningful action to address them.”
Sinclair added that when conducting research for the report they found reporting standards under the Australian Modern Slavery Act to be seriously lacking – with three in four of the companies assessed simply not complying with the law.
“Most statements reveal little evidence that companies understand the salient risks present in their operations and supply chains,” Sinclair said.
“This new report is important because it shows not only where the gaps are in companies’ efforts to address modern slavery, but provides a roadmap for how these gaps should be filled.”
The report coalition, which alongside the Human Rights Law Centre included academics from RMIT University and the University of Notre Dame, has called for the government to bring in measures to strengthen the regime.
These include the addition of penalties for companies that fail to comply with the law, mandatory due diligence requirements, improved access to justice for workers and better guidance for companies sourcing from high-risk sectors.
Dinshaw thinks it’s becoming increasingly apparent that reporting alone isn’t enough to drive fundamental change.
“When you speak to a glove worker in Malaysia forced to work around the clock to make PPE for the COVID crisis, or a migrant worker on an Australian farm working in terrible conditions, it brings home just how much more needs to be done,” she said.
“If the government is serious about eliminating modern slavery, it must strengthen the Modern Slavery Act to make it enforceable and require companies to take action.”
You can read the full report here