Australian businesses are still failing to address clear forced labour risks in their supply chains nearly four years after the introduction of landmark modern slavery laws, an investigation by human rights groups has found.
Two out of three companies are still failing to comply with legally-required reporting requirements, while more than half have failed to follow through on commitments to improve their anti-slavery efforts, a coalition of rights groups and academics said in a report released on Thursday.
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The group, which includes the Australian Human Rights Institute and the UK-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, said the Australian government should overhaul its anti-slavery legislation to ensure companies are not using forced labour in their supply chains.
It recommended that the law be strengthened to require firms to undertake due diligence on their supply chains, introduce penalties for non-compliance, and establish an independent anti-slavery commissioner.
The report, Broken Promises: Two years of corporate reporting under Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, is based on corporate statements submitted to the government by 92 companies that source from industries considered to be at risk of modern slavery. The at-risk industries are garments in China, rubber gloves in Malaysia, seafood in Thailand, and fresh produce in Australia.
Under Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, introduced in 2018, large firms are required to publish annual statements on the efforts they are making to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains and operations.
The legislation has been criticised as weak by some labour unions and activists as it only covers firms with annual revenue of more than $100m and does not include financial penalties.
Justine Nolan, director of the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, said Australian companies should move from a “paper-driven” response to “effective action” on modern slavery.
“Too many companies are still failing to identify obvious risks or are simply making vague promises that are not being fulfilled,” Nolan said.
“While the Modern Slavery Act has generated increased business awareness of the risks of modern slavery, this has not yet translated into effective practices to remediate and eliminate it.
“This report reveals an urgency to strengthen the law to require action not just reporting, as well as to equip and resource a regulator to provide greater oversight and enforcement of the Act.”