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Penalties for non-compliance essential to Modern Slavery Bill

A Modern Slavery Bill, without financial penalty for non-compliance is counterproductive, Law Council President, Morry Bailes, told the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee last week.

Addressing modern slavery is of paramount importance, and the Law Council called for the introduction of financial penalties for non-compliance when appearing before the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (Cth) hearing.

The Law Council welcomed the introduction of the Bill, and proposed inclusion of a modern slavery reporting requirement for corporations and other entities operating in Australia however, remains concerned the threshold for attracting the reporting requirements is set too high at $100 million and should be revised to $60 million.

Furthermore, the lack of penalties in the legislation for non-compliance with the reporting requirements means there is little incentive for entities to report.

“There ought to be some guarantee, in the Law Council’s view, that companies will comply with this legislation and take the steps necessary to stamp-out modern slavery in their supply chains,” Mr Bailes said.

“The most effective way to ensure that, is to include penalties for non-compliance.”

At the very least, the Bill should include compliance drivers, for example, a requirement that entities bidding for government contracts be up-to-date on reporting if they are required to report, or a provide a mechanism for the publication of a list of entities that have failed to report.

The Law Council was pleased improvements to the model for reporting requirements, proposed by the Attorney-General’s Department in 2017 were included, particularly that the government will be subject to the reporting requirements and the term ‘worst forms of child labour’ has been added to the definition of ‘modern slavery’.

The Law Council brought to the committee’s attention key omissions in the Bill, including the absence of an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, a role which could provide guidance to companies on meeting their reporting requirements, liaise with other relevant stakeholders, and be responsible for overseeing Australia’s response to modern slavery.

The Law Council also reiterated its long-standing support for a national compensation scheme for victims of modern slavery. The Law Council urged the government to consider amending the Bill or to enact other legislation to include both an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and national compensation scheme.

“Victims of modern slavery are often vulnerable and without appropriate support. They tend to be found across range of industries, including in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture, and construction”, Mr Bailes said.

“A national compensation scheme would provide effective remedy for victims of modern slavery and compensation for the harm they have suffered."

The Law Council framed its support of action on modern slavery in the context of Australia’s wider human rights obligations. The Law Council expressed its hope to the Committee that the government will reconsider a National Action Plan to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Australia, which represent international best practice on identifying, preventing and remedying the risk of business-related adverse human rights impacts.

The opening statement and Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (Cth) submission are available online.

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