Knowledge Hub.

Clear Filters

The Path to Ending Modern Slavery

The path to ending modern slavery may seem long, but if we tread it together we will secure freedom for all. A significant step along the path was taken last month, when the Australian Parliament tabled its final report, Hidden in Plain Sight, on the year-long inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

The report recommends that the Australian Government introduce a Modern Slavery Act, similar to the UK Act introduced in 2015. With the recommendation receiving bi-partisan support, it is expected that the Modern Slavery Act will be introduced early this year.

Modern Slavery?

Slavery is officially banned by all countries, yet despite this, there are more slaves in the world than ever before. It is estimated there are over 40 million people trapped in slavery [1] – people paid no money, locked away and controlled by violence.

Today ‘modern slavery’ describes a range of exploitative practices including slavery, servitude, forced labour, child labour, forced marriage, bonded labour and other slavery-like practices.

The term ‘modern slavery’ is not a defined offence, either in existing legislation or the proposed Act. Rather, it is an umbrella term that refers to the range of exploitative practices defined in Australian and international law.

Modern slavery is often described as being ‘hidden in plain sight’. Anti-Slavery Australia describes the situation as follows:

“Human trafficking and slavery in Australia are often hidden, or hidden in plain sight. Traffickers target people made vulnerable by social, cultural or political circumstances such as recent migrants, young people and refugees. Slavery and slavery-like practices occur in industries such as the sex industry, agriculture, hospitality, construction, and in private homes and in intimate or family relationships.” [2]

For an example we need only look to the United Kingdom (UK), where three individuals were sentenced for trafficking offences on 2 January 2018 under the UK Modern Slavery Act – the first successful prosecution involving children since the laws were introduced. The trio had exploited highly vulnerable young Vietnamese women, forcing them to work 60 hour weeks in nail bars in England for little or no wages. Local police noted:

“”_they are hiding their victims in plain sight. When people go and get their nails done there can be a victim there who comes here for a better life, sometimes with debt bondage connected to families back home. They are trapped here.” [3]

There are an estimated 4,300 victims of modern slavery in Australia, with most reported cases involving forced labour[4]. However, the impact of modern slavery in Australia is far-reaching, through exposure to modern slavery risks in our supply chains.

A Modern Slavery Act for Australia

Australia already has a number of measures in place to combat modern slavery, including the offences outlined in Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. The aim of the Modern Slavery Act is to consolidate those measures, add to them, and also to raise awareness of the issue of slavery. The introduction of a Modern Slavery Act will shine a light on an otherwise hidden crime and bring it out of the shadows of public consciousness.

Impact on businesses operating in Australia

One of the most significant changes that would be introduced by a Modern Slavery Act is mandatory supply chain reporting for affected entities. The primary objective of those measures is to:

“”_ equip and enable the business community to respond effectively to modern slavery and develop and maintain responsible and transparent supply chains.”[5]

The table below summarises the proposed measures:

Who is affected: Entities with total revenue of $50M or above. It is anticipated that “entities” will receive a broad definition, to include companies; businesses; organisations (including religious bodies); Commonwealth Government agencies and public bodies; the Australian Government; bodies corporate; unincorporated associations or bodies of persons; sole traders; partnerships; trusts; superannuation funds; and approved deposit funds.

There will be an opt-in option for smaller entities below the threshold that wish to voluntarily submit a modern slavery statement.

Reporting requirement: Annual modern slavery statements to be provided within five (5) months after the end of the Australian financial year.
Report approval: Modern slavery statements to be approved at the equivalent of board level and signed by a director equivalent.
Government procurement implications: The Australian Government is to introduce a requirement to only procure from entities that complete a modern slavery statement.

In addition, the Government is to encourage state, territory and local governments to also introduce requirements to only procure from entities that comply with the modern slavery supply chain reporting requirement, as well as submit modern slavery statements.

Content of modern slavery statement: The following specific areas will be prescribed for reporting under the proposed Act:

  • the organisation’s structure, its business and supply chains;
  • its policies in relation to modern slavery;
  • its due diligence and remediation processes in relation to modern slavery in its business and supply chains;
  • the parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of modern slavery taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
  • its effectiveness in ensuring that modern slavery is not taking place in its business or supply chains;
  • the training about modern slavery available to its management and staff; and
  • any other actions taken.
Publication of statement: Publication on the entity’s website, or if the entity doesn’t have a website, the statement is to be made available in its annual report or other public document.
Penalties for non-compliance: The Act will introduce penalties and compliance measures for entities that fail to report, applying to the second year of reporting onwards.

The proceeds from any penalties collected will be used to support victims of modern slavery.

Oversight: The Act will establish an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.


Treading the path

In 2015 world leaders adopted a new target in Sustainable Development Goal 8.7[6] to end modern slavery by 2030. We believe this target is achievable, with a coordinated approach from governments, business and individuals across the globe. The introduction of a Modern Slavery Act in Australia is a significant step towards the target.

Wotton + Kearney has recently partnered with International Justice Mission Australia (IJM) to help tackle modern slavery at home and overseas. IJM is a human rights agency that protects the poor from violence and secures justice for victims of slavery, exploitation and other forms of oppression. We are committed to supporting IJM’s work through pro bono legal assistance, fundraising and taking steps to review our own supply chains, and also helping to shine a light on this hidden crime through advocacy and awareness raising.

  1. [1] Walk Free Foundation, Submission 91, p.9. There are, however, significant challenges in measuring the prevalence of modern slavery due to the lack of an agreed definition of what ‘modern slavery’ entails.
  2. [2] Anit-Slavery Australia, Submission 156, p.14
  3. [3]
  4. [4] Walk Free Foundation
  5. [5] Attorney-General’s Department, Modern Slavery in Supply Chains Reporting Requirement – Public Consultation, 16 August 2017
  6. [6] The Sustainable Development Goals, officially known as Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, are a set of 17 global goals, with 169 targets between them. The Goals were adopted by countries around the world in 2015.

For further information about modern slavery, the proposed Act or Wotton + Kearney’s partnership with IJM, please contact Heidi Nash-Smith, our Head of Pro Bono and Social Responsibility.

© Wotton + Kearney 2018
This publication is intended to provide commentary and general information. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this publication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.