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Australia passes Modern Slavery Act into law

Australia’s Modern Slavery Act (MSA), only the second such national legislation in the world, is now the law of the land. The act is modeled after the United Kingdom’s Modern Slavery Act (2015), which requires organizations that meet a certain threshold to provide annual reports on human trafficking and modern slavery in their supply chains, as well as describe the actions they have taken to eradicate the problem.

Nongovernmental organizations and other observers have generally applauded the Australian government for passing the bill into law, but they caution that the MSA alone is not nearly enough to combat the scourge of modern slavery in global supply chains.

Critics say that the MSA is weakened by both the decision to not appoint an independent statutory anti-slavery commissioner, who would have the authority and resources to oversee compliance, and the lack of a penalty for noncompliance; annual reports will, therefore, most likely become lower priorities for organizations with sprawling supply chains. Instead of fines, the Australian government will rely on a “name and shame” strategy by leveraging the power of consumer pressure and nongovernment associations. Amendments to the bill empowered the responsible minister to both request an explanation from businesses that fail to report or improve their compliance and to publish the names of these companies and the details of their transgressions.

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