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25 July 2018
Slavery is a real issue in Australia and new legislation designed to tackle it will affect a surprising number of businesses.
Modern slavery is similar to the general idea of slavery. It is characterised by extreme working conditions including:
Modern slavery is common among young and migrant workers, and in industries including:
On 27 June 2018 the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (NSW) received assent, making the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW) the first of its kind in Australia.
The Modern Slavery Act addresses the findings and recommendations in the report on the inquiry into human trafficking in New South Wales, which left little to the government's imagination about the prevalence of modern slavery in New South Wales and throughout Australia. For example, the report found that despite an increase in reported offences of forced labour, there have been no prosecutions under the forced labour provisions of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) since they were introduced in 2013.
Employers may think that the Modern Slavery Act does not apply to them because they would never be involved in slave labour. However, the act creates broader obligations that businesses should be aware of. In particular, commercial organisations with at least one employee in New South Wales and a minimum annual turnover of A$50 million are required to publish an annual modern slavery statement. This includes details of:
The Modern Slavery Act does not define 'supply chain' or indicate how far down the supply chain the reporting obligations extend. This is likely to be detailed in the regulations, which are yet to be released.
Under the Modern Slavery Act, penalties of up to 10,000 penalty units (A$1.1 million) are applicable to companies for offences including:
In addition, the act provides for an independent anti-slavery commissioner, charged with the role of advocating and promoting action to combat modern slavery and maintaining a public register of modern slavery statements.
On 28 June 2018 the Turnbull government introduced the Modern Slavery Bill 2018. Similar to the Modern Slavery Act, the federal bill will require entities to submit a modern slavery statement every 12 months, addressing the actions taken to manage modern slavery risks in supply chains.
Despite being a step in the right direction, the federal bill has been criticised for applying only to entities with annual revenues of at least A$100 million (double the threshold of the Modern Slavery Act). The bill has also been criticised for lacking enforcement measures and for neglecting to introduce an independent commissioner.
The Modern Slavery Act also targets supply chains; therefore, focusing solely on your own business is not enough. Knowing what your suppliers (and their suppliers) are doing is crucial. Businesses should also consider how the obligation to prepare a modern slavery statement may affect the organisation's reporting processes.(1)
For further information on this topic please contact Aaron Goonrey at Lander & Rogers' Sydney office by telephone (+61 2 8020 7700) or email (email@example.com). Alternatively, contact Coral Yopp at Lander & Rogers' Melbourne office by telephone (+61 3 9269 9000) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Lander & Rogers website can be accessed at www.landers.com.au.
(1) An earlier version of this article was first published in HRM Online on 2 July 2018.
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