Australia is slowly moving closer to the establishment of comprehensive modern slavery legislation. At Federal level, the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (Federal Bill) passed the lower house last month and is now being considered by the Senate, and in the last Federal budget funding was provided to establish an anti-slavery unit in the Department of Home Affairs. In New South Wales the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW) is expected to become law shortly. Organisations need to prepare now in order to meet these new obligations.
The term modern slavery describes a range of exploitative practices including slavery, servitude, forced labour, child labour, human trafficking, forced marriage and sexual servitude, bonded labour and debt bondage, and other slavery-like practices.
The United Nation’s latest estimates suggest that over 40 million people around the world, and 4,300 people in Australia, are victims of some form of modern slavery.
While many Australian organisations may see modern slavery as being far removed from their own operations, when product supply chains are taken into account modern slavery becomes a very relevant issue for the Australian business community.
In December 2017, a joint standing committee of Federal Parliament handed down its final report into modern slavery entitled “Hidden in Plain Sight”. In light of the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, the Committee was asked to examine whether Australia should adopt a comparable Modern Slavery Act. In particular, the Committee was asked to focus on the following issues:
The Committee made a number of strong recommendations, including to establish an Australian Modern Slavery Act, with an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to lead and coordinate Australia’s response to combatting modern slavery, the establishment of mandatory global supply chain reporting requirement for certain entities operating in Australia, increasing support for victims through a national compensation scheme and improving criminal justice responses.
In response to the Committee’s recommendations, on 28 June 2018 the Federal Government introduced the Federal Bill into parliament. Despite unsuccessful moves by the Federal Opposition to introduce amendments to the Federal Bill, the opposition nonetheless passed the Federal Bill in the lower house. While the Federal Bill has yet to be passed by the Senate, its passage should be assured given the support for modern slavery reporting on both sides of politics and within the broader community.
The Federal Bill seeks to establish a modern slavery reporting requirement, with its primary objective being to support Australian businesses to take proactive and effective actions to address modern slavery and to mitigate the risk of modern slavery practices occurring in the supply chains of goods and services in the Australian market.
Key features of the Federal Bill include:
The Federal Bill does not include many of the Committee’s recommendations, including a national redress scheme for victims of modern slavery or the establishment of an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Oddly the Federal Bill does not impose any penalties for an organisation failing to meet its reporting requirements.
On 21 June 2018 the New South Wales parliament passed the Modern Slavery Bill (NSW Act) and it received assent on 27 June 2018. The NSW Act is expected to become law shortly.
The NSW Act contains reporting requirements that have the potential to overlap with those under the Federal Bill. It is important that companies understand both the requirements under the NSW Act, as well as any key differences to the measures proposed by the Federal Bill.
The NSW Act applies to any commercial organisation (company, partnership or association):
This threshold is obviously much lower than that proposed under the Federal Bill and is in line with the Committee’s recommendations. The NSW Government has also indicated that small businesses with less than 20 employees will be exempt from any reporting requirement for 18 months following commencement.
Similar to the Federal Bill, a key requirement of the NSW Act is that commercial organisations must publish an annual modern slavery statement. The specific information which organisations will be required to report on will be detailed in regulations (which are yet to be drafted), but at a minimum the NSW Act provides that those statements should cover:
These areas are broadly similar to those proposed under the Federal Bill. In line with the NSW Government’s already expressed desire to harmonise its reporting framework with any Federal reporting framework to avoid duplicating administrative burdens, the NSW Act provides that the NSW reporting requirement will not apply to commercial organisations who report under a prescribed corresponding Federal or state law.
The NSW Act contains penalties of up to $1.1 million for organisations who:
Unlike the Federal Bill, the NSW Act provides for the appointment of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The Commissioner’s role will be focused on public awareness, advocacy and advice, but does not include investigative or complaint-handling powers in individual cases. The Commissioner will also be responsible for preparing a strategic plan to combat human trafficking and slavery-like practices in NSW, maintaining a public register identifying organisations in whose supply chains modern slavery is taking place, and establishing a hotline to provide advice to victims.
Lastly, NSW government agencies are exempt from the NSW Act, but they must take reasonable steps to ensure that the goods and services they procure are not the product of modern slavery. Practically this means it is likely that modern slavery statements will be carefully reviewed as part of government procurement processes.
While the Federal Bill has yet to be passed and we still await commencement of the NSW Act, it is clear that organisations need to start preparing now to meet their new obligations.
Organisations will need to commence taking the following steps:
For organisations who respond well to these obligations, there is the potential to create a point of difference in the market when compared to competitors.
Gadens can assist organisations to meet these new reporting requirements, together with reviewing existing policies, supplier terms and implementing risk management / due diligence frameworks to identify and appropriately respond to modern slavery risks.
Brett Feltham, Partner