(Sydney, July 26, 2018) – Australia’s proposed modern slavery law needs revisions to be effective in preventing and ending labor rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today in a submission to Australia’s Parliamentary Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. 

The Modern Slavery Bill 2018 defines “modern slavery” to include the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and criminal offenses including forced labor, forced marriage, and slavery-like practices. 

“Australia’s modern slavery bill takes some critical steps toward holding companies to account for serious abuses in their supply chains, but to be truly effective the law needs teeth,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The bill should lower the threshold for reporting, require the government to publicize a list of companies required to report its practices, and impose penalties for noncompliance.”

The bill is the result of extensive consultation with nongovernmental groups and businesses. 

It requires companies with annual revenue of AU$100 million (US$74 million) to submit statements describing their operations and supply chains, risks for modern slavery, attempts to assess and address those risks, and the effectiveness of those actions. Human Rights Watch urged lowering the cap to AU$25 million (US$18 million), and requiring the government to publish a list of companies covered by the law to make it harder for companies to ignore the requirement.

In addition, the bill should require companies to conduct a systematic examination of their operations and supply chains for modern slavery risks, and should provide for penalties when companies fail to comply with the law.

“Companies that fail to identify and address forced labor in their supply chains should face legal consequences,” Pearson said. “Greater transparency also helps Australian consumers to know that their dollars are not going to support trafficking or child labor.”