• Thomson Reuters Foundation


Australia aims to be a global leader in the fight against modern slavery with a new law that builds upon Britain’s landmark legislation and demands stronger action from the government and businesses, its foreign minister and lawmakers said on Tuesday.

The country is expected to this year pass a Modern Slavery Act to tackle the risk of forced labor in supply chains, protect people vulnerable to enslavement such as migrant workers, and compensate victims of slavery, politicians said.

Following Britain’s world-leading 2015 anti-slavery law, Australia’s legislation goes further by requiring public bodies as well as companies to outline what they have done to combat slavery in their supply chains, said Senator Linda Reynolds.

“One of most significant things is that we aren’t just expecting businesses to act, but will take action ourselves,” she said on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London.

“This is a game-changer,” she said at an event hosted by Australia and the charity Walk Free Foundation.

The British law introduced life sentences for human traffickers, compelled firms to address the risk of forced labor and established the role of independent anti-slavery commissioner.

Yet the British government has been criticized by several anti-slavery activists for a lack of support for victims and for working with suppliers who flout the law.

“It is important that we are following Britain’s lead, but the requirements of our act have come about as a result of discussions in Australia,” said foreign minister Julie Bishop.

“We will be one of the world leaders in introducing modern slavery legislation,” she added.

Compared to Britain, Australia’s law would be stricter on the content of the annual statement showing actions taken to ensure supply chains are slavery-free, and the government would also publish a list of all entities required to comply.

The proposed law should require firms doing business in Australia with a revenue of more than $50 million to file a statement, a parliamentary inquiry found according to its December report.

Yet the threshold should be lower than this to force more companies to fight crime estimated to affect 40 million people globally with annual profits of $150 billion, according to Andrew Forrest, the Australian founder of Walk Free.

“Filing out a statement is not hard,” said Forrest, who is also chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, a major iron ore miner.

“The Australian government is setting the example and businesses need to follow.”

Australia is home to an estimated 4,300 slavery victims — from forced labor and sexual exploitation to domestic servitude — according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by Walk Free.