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Modern slavery: an uncomfortable truth

Modern slavery: an uncomfortable truth

By Naomi Hickey-Humble

Diversity 


 

Slavery continues to be a human rights issue for the modern world and particularly vulnerable women.

 

Slavery has a modern face, reaching into our everyday patterns of consumption – and it should raise alarm bells. Driven by a multitude of factors, including new waves of middle class wealth, globalisation and regional instability, modern slavery is the hidden face behind consumer must-haves that are increasingly presented as affordable, everyday parts of life. These are the uncomfortable truths for the affluent consumer.

There is no globally agreed definition of modern slavery: the term is used to cover a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, domestic servitude, child labour, removal of organs and slavery-like practices.1 It is widely recognised that there are significant challenges in collecting global data on the prevalence of modern slavery, due to the hidden nature of these crimes.

Modern slavery in Australia

What is clear is that slavery is not a problem that happens “over there”. We are in the heart of it and need to address the issue.

According to the International Labour Organisation, over half of the world’s 40.3 million victims of slavery are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, where the supply chains of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based. Of this number, women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 per cent of victims.

Australia has been recognised as a destination country for human trafficking and slavery. The majority of trafficked people identified by the Australian authorities to date are women from Asia, exploited in the sex work industry.

However, numbers outside this industry are increasing, with reported cases rising in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture and construction industries, or within intimate or family relationships. To a limited extent, Australia is also a source country for people who are forced to marry.2

What steps can be taken to prevent this? The difficulty is that modern slavery in its various forms is often hidden in plain sight and many cases go undetected and unreported.

Domestic servitude, for example, is one of the most hidden – yet most prevalent – types of modern slavery. Servitude is defined as the condition of a person who does not consider themself to be free to stop working or to leave work, because of threats, coercion or deception, and the person is significantly deprived of their personal freedom in areas of their life outside of work.3 It is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to measure with certainty the hard data on slavery in the world today.

Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) strongly supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (MSA), which took effect on 1 January this year. As a step in the right direction, the MSA provides a valuable model for behaviour change, implementing transparency laws that force businesses with a turnover of $100 million or more to report annually on the slavery risks within their supply chains. This will include the Australian government.

In March, VWL held a panel discussion examining the MSA. While the MSA is a welcome addition to the Australian legislative landscape, it has been criticised by some advocacy, academic and legal groups for falling short in its scope, enforcement and reach.

Panellists Professor Felicity Gerry QC, an international QC with vast expertise in human trafficking and modern slavery; Jo Pride, former lawyer and current CEO of Hagar Australia; Marie Segrave, criminologist and associate professor at Monash University, and panel moderator Jacinta Lewin, senior associate in the social justice practice of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, applauded the introduction of anti-slavery legislation in Australia. However, they commented it is concerning that the MSA only captures corporate supply chains occurring offshore, and further that the Act is silent on penalties for non-compliance. In short, was the MSA a missed opportunity?

VWL believes well-drafted legislation is weakened without adequate enforcement mechanisms, particularly when it relies on corporate self-reporting in the way the MSA does. In addition, the MSA does not require the appointment of an Independent Slavery Commissioner, unlike the Modern Slavery Act in the UK.

There is an argument that enforcement with real teeth is required to adequately address misconduct or wilful blindness on the part of Australian companies.

However, the MSA does establish mandatory reporting criteria (unlike the UK Act). Additionally, the federal government has committed funding to provide non-binding guidance to businesses on slavery risks and reporting, in addition to establishing a free Online Modern Slavery Statements Register for public use to monitor performance under the Act. The MSA will be subject to a legislated three-year review. 

Naomi Hickey-Humble is co-chair of the VWL cultural diversity committee and Vanessa Shambrook is an executive committee member of VWL.

1. Hidden in Plain Sight (December 2017), Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Commonwealth of Australia, [3.4]).

2. Australian Government, Submission 89, Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, p2.

3. Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), s270.4.

continues to be a human rights issue for the modern world and particularly vulnerable women.

 

Slavery has a modern face, reaching into our everyday patterns of consumption – and it should raise alarm bells. Driven by a multitude of factors, including new waves of middle class wealth, globalisation and regional instability, modern slavery is the hidden face behind consumer must-haves that are increasingly presented as affordable, everyday parts of life. These are the uncomfortable truths for the affluent consumer.

There is no globally agreed definition of modern slavery: the term is used to cover a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, domestic servitude, child labour, removal of organs and slavery-like practices.1 It is widely recognised that there are significant challenges in collecting global data on the prevalence of modern slavery, due to the hidden nature of these crimes.

Modern slavery in Australia

What is clear is that slavery is not a problem that happens “over there”. We are in the heart of it and need to address the issue.

According to the International Labour Organisation, over half of the world’s 40.3 million victims of slavery are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, where the supply chains of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based. Of this number, women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 per cent of victims.

Australia has been recognised as a destination country for human trafficking and slavery. The majority of trafficked people identified by the Australian authorities to date are women from Asia, exploited in the sex work industry.

However, numbers outside this industry are increasing, with reported cases rising in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture and construction industries, or within intimate or family relationships. To a limited extent, Australia is also a source country for people who are forced to marry.2

What steps can be taken to prevent this? The difficulty is that modern slavery in its various forms is often hidden in plain sight and many cases go undetected and unreported.

Domestic servitude, for example, is one of the most hidden – yet most prevalent – types of modern slavery. Servitude is defined as the condition of a person who does not consider themself to be free to stop working or to leave work, because of threats, coercion or deception, and the person is significantly deprived of their personal freedom in areas of their life outside of work.3 It is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to measure with certainty the hard data on slavery in the world today.

Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) strongly supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (MSA), which took effect on 1 January this year. As a step in the right direction, the MSA provides a valuable model for behaviour change, implementing transparency laws that force businesses with a turnover of $100 million or more to report annually on the slavery risks within their supply chains. This will include the Australian government.

In March, VWL held a panel discussion examining the MSA. While the MSA is a welcome addition to the Australian legislative landscape, it has been criticised by some advocacy, academic and legal groups for falling short in its scope, enforcement and reach.

Panellists Professor Felicity Gerry QC, an international QC with vast expertise in human trafficking and modern slavery; Jo Pride, former lawyer and current CEO of Hagar Australia; Marie Segrave, criminologist and associate professor at Monash University, and panel moderator Jacinta Lewin, senior associate in the social justice practice of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, applauded the introduction of anti-slavery legislation in Australia. However, they commented it is concerning that the MSA only captures corporate supply chains occurring offshore, and further that the Act is silent on penalties for non-compliance. In short, was the MSA a missed opportunity?

VWL believes well-drafted legislation is weakened without adequate enforcement mechanisms, particularly when it relies on corporate self-reporting in the way the MSA does. In addition, the MSA does not require the appointment of an Independent Slavery Commissioner, unlike the Modern Slavery Act in the UK.

There is an argument that enforcement with real teeth is required to adequately address misconduct or wilful blindness on the part of Australian companies.

However, the MSA does establish mandatory reporting criteria (unlike the UK Act). Additionally, the federal government has committed funding to provide non-binding guidance to businesses on slavery risks and reporting, in addition to establishing a free Online Modern Slavery Statements Register for public use to monitor performance under the Act. The MSA will be subject to a legislated three-year review. 

Naomi Hickey-Humble is co-chair of the VWL cultural diversity committee and Vanessa Shambrook is an executive committee member of VWL.

1. Hidden in Plain Sight (December 2017), Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Commonwealth of Australia, [3.4]).

2. Australian Government, Submission 89, Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, p2.

3. Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), s270.4.

lavery continues to be a human rights issue for the modern world and particularly vulnerable women.

 

Slavery has a modern face, reaching into our everyday patterns of consumption – and it should raise alarm bells. Driven by a multitude of factors, including new waves of middle class wealth, globalisation and regional instability, modern slavery is the hidden face behind consumer must-haves that are increasingly presented as affordable, everyday parts of life. These are the uncomfortable truths for the affluent consumer.

There is no globally agreed definition of modern slavery: the term is used to cover a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, domestic servitude, child labour, removal of organs and slavery-like practices.1 It is widely recognised that there are significant challenges in collecting global data on the prevalence of modern slavery, due to the hidden nature of these crimes.

Modern slavery in Australia

What is clear is that slavery is not a problem that happens “over there”. We are in the heart of it and need to address the issue.

According to the International Labour Organisation, over half of the world’s 40.3 million victims of slavery are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, where the supply chains of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based. Of this number, women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 per cent of victims.

Australia has been recognised as a destination country for human trafficking and slavery. The majority of trafficked people identified by the Australian authorities to date are women from Asia, exploited in the sex work industry.

However, numbers outside this industry are increasing, with reported cases rising in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture and construction industries, or within intimate or family relationships. To a limited extent, Australia is also a source country for people who are forced to marry.2

What steps can be taken to prevent this? The difficulty is that modern slavery in its various forms is often hidden in plain sight and many cases go undetected and unreported.

Domestic servitude, for example, is one of the most hidden – yet most prevalent – types of modern slavery. Servitude is defined as the condition of a person who does not consider themself to be free to stop working or to leave work, because of threats, coercion or deception, and the person is significantly deprived of their personal freedom in areas of their life outside of work.3 It is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to measure with certainty the hard data on slavery in the world today.

Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) strongly supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (MSA), which took effect on 1 January this year. As a step in the right direction, the MSA provides a valuable model for behaviour change, implementing transparency laws that force businesses with a turnover of $100 million or more to report annually on the slavery risks within their supply chains. This will include the Australian government.

In March, VWL held a panel discussion examining the MSA. While the MSA is a welcome addition to the Australian legislative landscape, it has been criticised by some advocacy, academic and legal groups for falling short in its scope, enforcement and reach.

Panellists Professor Felicity Gerry QC, an international QC with vast expertise in human trafficking and modern slavery; Jo Pride, former lawyer and current CEO of Hagar Australia; Marie Segrave, criminologist and associate professor at Monash University, and panel moderator Jacinta Lewin, senior associate in the social justice practice of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, applauded the introduction of anti-slavery legislation in Australia. However, they commented it is concerning that the MSA only captures corporate supply chains occurring offshore, and further that the Act is silent on penalties for non-compliance. In short, was the MSA a missed opportunity?

VWL believes well-drafted legislation is weakened without adequate enforcement mechanisms, particularly when it relies on corporate self-reporting in the way the MSA does. In addition, the MSA does not require the appointment of an Independent Slavery Commissioner, unlike the Modern Slavery Act in the UK.

There is an argument that enforcement with real teeth is required to adequately address misconduct or wilful blindness on the part of Australian companies.

However, the MSA does establish mandatory reporting criteria (unlike the UK Act). Additionally, the federal government has committed funding to provide non-binding guidance to businesses on slavery risks and reporting, in addition to establishing a free Online Modern Slavery Statements Register for public use to monitor performance under the Act. The MSA will be subject to a legislated three-year review. 

Naomi Hickey-Humble is co-chair of the VWL cultural diversity committee and Vanessa Shambrook is an executive committee member of VWL.

1. Hidden in Plain Sight (December 2017), Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Commonwealth of Australia, [3.4]).

2. Australian Government, Submission 89, Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, p2.

3. Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), s270.4.

very continues to be a human rights issue for the modern world and particularly vulnerable women.

 

Slavery has a modern face, reaching into our everyday patterns of consumption – and it should raise alarm bells. Driven by a multitude of factors, including new waves of middle class wealth, globalisation and regional instability, modern slavery is the hidden face behind consumer must-haves that are increasingly presented as affordable, everyday parts of life. These are the uncomfortable truths for the affluent consumer.

There is no globally agreed definition of modern slavery: the term is used to cover a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, domestic servitude, child labour, removal of organs and slavery-like practices.1 It is widely recognised that there are significant challenges in collecting global data on the prevalence of modern slavery, due to the hidden nature of these crimes.

Modern slavery in Australia

What is clear is that slavery is not a problem that happens “over there”. We are in the heart of it and need to address the issue.

According to the International Labour Organisation, over half of the world’s 40.3 million victims of slavery are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, where the supply chains of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based. Of this number, women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 per cent of victims.

Australia has been recognised as a destination country for human trafficking and slavery. The majority of trafficked people identified by the Australian authorities to date are women from Asia, exploited in the sex work industry.

However, numbers outside this industry are increasing, with reported cases rising in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture and construction industries, or within intimate or family relationships. To a limited extent, Australia is also a source country for people who are forced to marry.2

What steps can be taken to prevent this? The difficulty is that modern slavery in its various forms is often hidden in plain sight and many cases go undetected and unreported.

Domestic servitude, for example, is one of the most hidden – yet most prevalent – types of modern slavery. Servitude is defined as the condition of a person who does not consider themself to be free to stop working or to leave work, because of threats, coercion or deception, and the person is significantly deprived of their personal freedom in areas of their life outside of work.3 It is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to measure with certainty the hard data on slavery in the world today.

Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) strongly supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (MSA), which took effect on 1 January this year. As a step in the right direction, the MSA provides a valuable model for behaviour change, implementing transparency laws that force businesses with a turnover of $100 million or more to report annually on the slavery risks within their supply chains. This will include the Australian government.

In March, VWL held a panel discussion examining the MSA. While the MSA is a welcome addition to the Australian legislative landscape, it has been criticised by some advocacy, academic and legal groups for falling short in its scope, enforcement and reach.

Panellists Professor Felicity Gerry QC, an international QC with vast expertise in human trafficking and modern slavery; Jo Pride, former lawyer and current CEO of Hagar Australia; Marie Segrave, criminologist and associate professor at Monash University, and panel moderator Jacinta Lewin, senior associate in the social justice practice of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, applauded the introduction of anti-slavery legislation in Australia. However, they commented it is concerning that the MSA only captures corporate supply chains occurring offshore, and further that the Act is silent on penalties for non-compliance. In short, was the MSA a missed opportunity?

VWL believes well-drafted legislation is weakened without adequate enforcement mechanisms, particularly when it relies on corporate self-reporting in the way the MSA does. In addition, the MSA does not require the appointment of an Independent Slavery Commissioner, unlike the Modern Slavery Act in the UK.

There is an argument that enforcement with real teeth is required to adequately address misconduct or wilful blindness on the part of Australian companies.

However, the MSA does establish mandatory reporting criteria (unlike the UK Act). Additionally, the federal government has committed funding to provide non-binding guidance to businesses on slavery risks and reporting, in addition to establishing a free Online Modern Slavery Statements Register for public use to monitor performance under the Act. The MSA will be subject to a legislated three-year review. 

Naomi Hickey-Humble is co-chair of the VWL cultural diversity committee and Vanessa Shambrook is an executive committee member of VWL.

1. Hidden in Plain Sight (December 2017), Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Commonwealth of Australia, [3.4]).

2. Australian Government, Submission 89, Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, p2.

3. Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), s270.4.

 

Slavery continues to be a human rights issue for the modern world and particularly vulnerable women.

 

Slavery has a modern face, reaching into our everyday patterns of consumption – and it should raise alarm bells. Driven by a multitude of factors, including new waves of middle class wealth, globalisation and regional instability, modern slavery is the hidden face behind consumer must-haves that are increasingly presented as affordable, everyday parts of life. These are the uncomfortable truths for the affluent consumer.

There is no globally agreed definition of modern slavery: the term is used to cover a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, domestic servitude, child labour, removal of organs and slavery-like practices.1 It is widely recognised that there are significant challenges in collecting global data on the prevalence of modern slavery, due to the hidden nature of these crimes.

Modern slavery in Australia

What is clear is that slavery is not a problem that happens “over there”. We are in the heart of it and need to address the issue.

According to the International Labour Organisation, over half of the world’s 40.3 million victims of slavery are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, where the supply chains of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based. Of this number, women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 per cent of victims.

Australia has been recognised as a destination country for human trafficking and slavery. The majority of trafficked people identified by the Australian authorities to date are women from Asia, exploited in the sex work industry.

However, numbers outside this industry are increasing, with reported cases rising in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture and construction industries, or within intimate or family relationships. To a limited extent, Australia is also a source country for people who are forced to marry.2

What steps can be taken to prevent this? The difficulty is that modern slavery in its various forms is often hidden in plain sight and many cases go undetected and unreported.

Domestic servitude, for example, is one of the most hidden – yet most prevalent – types of modern slavery. Servitude is defined as the condition of a person who does not consider themself to be free to stop working or to leave work, because of threats, coercion or deception, and the person is significantly deprived of their personal freedom in areas of their life outside of work.3 It is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to measure with certainty the hard data on slavery in the world today.

Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) strongly supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (MSA), which took effect on 1 January this year. As a step in the right direction, the MSA provides a valuable model for behaviour change, implementing transparency laws that force businesses with a turnover of $100 million or more to report annually on the slavery risks within their supply chains. This will include the Australian government.

In March, VWL held a panel discussion examining the MSA. While the MSA is a welcome addition to the Australian legislative landscape, it has been criticised by some advocacy, academic and legal groups for falling short in its scope, enforcement and reach.

Panellists Professor Felicity Gerry QC, an international QC with vast expertise in human trafficking and modern slavery; Jo Pride, former lawyer and current CEO of Hagar Australia; Marie Segrave, criminologist and associate professor at Monash University, and panel moderator Jacinta Lewin, senior associate in the social justice practice of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, applauded the introduction of anti-slavery legislation in Australia. However, they commented it is concerning that the MSA only captures corporate supply chains occurring offshore, and further that the Act is silent on penalties for non-compliance. In short, was the MSA a missed opportunity?

VWL believes well-drafted legislation is weakened without adequate enforcement mechanisms, particularly when it relies on corporate self-reporting in the way the MSA does. In addition, the MSA does not require the appointment of an Independent Slavery Commissioner, unlike the Modern Slavery Act in the UK.

There is an argument that enforcement with real teeth is required to adequately address misconduct or wilful blindness on the part of Australian companies.

However, the MSA does establish mandatory reporting criteria (unlike the UK Act). Additionally, the federal government has committed funding to provide non-binding guidance to businesses on slavery risks and reporting, in addition to establishing a free Online Modern Slavery Statements Register for public use to monitor performance under the Act. The MSA will be subject to a legislated three-year review. 

Naomi Hickey-Humble is co-chair of the VWL cultural diversity committee and Vanessa Shambrook is an executive committee member of VWL.

1. Hidden in Plain Sight (December 2017), Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Commonwealth of Australia, [3.4]).

2. Australian Government, Submission 89, Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, p2.

3. Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), s270.4.

 

Slavery continues to be a human rights issue for the modern world and particularly vulnerable women.

 

Slavery has a modern face, reaching into our everyday patterns of consumption – and it should raise alarm bells. Driven by a multitude of factors, including new waves of middle class wealth, globalisation and regional instability, modern slavery is the hidden face behind consumer must-haves that are increasingly presented as affordable, everyday parts of life. These are the uncomfortable truths for the affluent consumer.

There is no globally agreed definition of modern slavery: the term is used to cover a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, domestic servitude, child labour, removal of organs and slavery-like practices.1 It is widely recognised that there are significant challenges in collecting global data on the prevalence of modern slavery, due to the hidden nature of these crimes.

Modern slavery in Australia

What is clear is that slavery is not a problem that happens “over there”. We are in the heart of it and need to address the issue.

According to the International Labour Organisation, over half of the world’s 40.3 million victims of slavery are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, where the supply chains of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based. Of this number, women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 per cent of victims.

Australia has been recognised as a destination country for human trafficking and slavery. The majority of trafficked people identified by the Australian authorities to date are women from Asia, exploited in the sex work industry.

However, numbers outside this industry are increasing, with reported cases rising in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture and construction industries, or within intimate or family relationships. To a limited extent, Australia is also a source country for people who are forced to marry.2

What steps can be taken to prevent this? The difficulty is that modern slavery in its various forms is often hidden in plain sight and many cases go undetected and unreported.

Domestic servitude, for example, is one of the most hidden – yet most prevalent – types of modern slavery. Servitude is defined as the condition of a person who does not consider themself to be free to stop working or to leave work, because of threats, coercion or deception, and the person is significantly deprived of their personal freedom in areas of their life outside of work.3 It is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to measure with certainty the hard data on slavery in the world today.

Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) strongly supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (MSA), which took effect on 1 January this year. As a step in the right direction, the MSA provides a valuable model for behaviour change, implementing transparency laws that force businesses with a turnover of $100 million or more to report annually on the slavery risks within their supply chains. This will include the Australian government.

In March, VWL held a panel discussion examining the MSA. While the MSA is a welcome addition to the Australian legislative landscape, it has been criticised by some advocacy, academic and legal groups for falling short in its scope, enforcement and reach.

Panellists Professor Felicity Gerry QC, an international QC with vast expertise in human trafficking and modern slavery; Jo Pride, former lawyer and current CEO of Hagar Australia; Marie Segrave, criminologist and associate professor at Monash University, and panel moderator Jacinta Lewin, senior associate in the social justice practice of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, applauded the introduction of anti-slavery legislation in Australia. However, they commented it is concerning that the MSA only captures corporate supply chains occurring offshore, and further that the Act is silent on penalties for non-compliance. In short, was the MSA a missed opportunity?

VWL believes well-drafted legislation is weakened without adequate enforcement mechanisms, particularly when it relies on corporate self-reporting in the way the MSA does. In addition, the MSA does not require the appointment of an Independent Slavery Commissioner, unlike the Modern Slavery Act in the UK.

There is an argument that enforcement with real teeth is required to adequately address misconduct or wilful blindness on the part of Australian companies.

However, the MSA does establish mandatory reporting criteria (unlike the UK Act). Additionally, the federal government has committed funding to provide non-binding guidance to businesses on slavery risks and reporting, in addition to establishing a free Online Modern Slavery Statements Register for public use to monitor performance under the Act. The MSA will be subject to a legislated three-year review. 

Naomi Hickey-Humble is co-chair of the VWL cultural diversity committee and Vanessa Shambrook is an executive committee member of VWL.

1. Hidden in Plain Sight (December 2017), Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Commonwealth of Australia, [3.4]).

2. Australian Government, Submission 89, Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, p2.

3. Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), s270.4.

 

Slavery continues to be a human rights issue for the modern world and particularly vulnerable women.

 

Slavery has a modern face, reaching into our everyday patterns of consumption – and it should raise alarm bells. Driven by a multitude of factors, including new waves of middle class wealth, globalisation and regional instability, modern slavery is the hidden face behind consumer must-haves that are increasingly presented as affordable, everyday parts of life. These are the uncomfortable truths for the affluent consumer.

There is no globally agreed definition of modern slavery: the term is used to cover a range of exploitative practices including human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, domestic servitude, child labour, removal of organs and slavery-like practices.1 It is widely recognised that there are significant challenges in collecting global data on the prevalence of modern slavery, due to the hidden nature of these crimes.

Modern slavery in Australia

What is clear is that slavery is not a problem that happens “over there”. We are in the heart of it and need to address the issue.

According to the International Labour Organisation, over half of the world’s 40.3 million victims of slavery are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, where the supply chains of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based. Of this number, women and girls are vastly over-represented, making up 71 per cent of victims.

Australia has been recognised as a destination country for human trafficking and slavery. The majority of trafficked people identified by the Australian authorities to date are women from Asia, exploited in the sex work industry.

However, numbers outside this industry are increasing, with reported cases rising in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture and construction industries, or within intimate or family relationships. To a limited extent, Australia is also a source country for people who are forced to marry.2

What steps can be taken to prevent this? The difficulty is that modern slavery in its various forms is often hidden in plain sight and many cases go undetected and unreported.

Domestic servitude, for example, is one of the most hidden – yet most prevalent – types of modern slavery. Servitude is defined as the condition of a person who does not consider themself to be free to stop working or to leave work, because of threats, coercion or deception, and the person is significantly deprived of their personal freedom in areas of their life outside of work.3 It is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to measure with certainty the hard data on slavery in the world today.

Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) strongly supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (MSA), which took effect on 1 January this year. As a step in the right direction, the MSA provides a valuable model for behaviour change, implementing transparency laws that force businesses with a turnover of $100 million or more to report annually on the slavery risks within their supply chains. This will include the Australian government.

In March, VWL held a panel discussion examining the MSA. While the MSA is a welcome addition to the Australian legislative landscape, it has been criticised by some advocacy, academic and legal groups for falling short in its scope, enforcement and reach.

Panellists Professor Felicity Gerry QC, an international QC with vast expertise in human trafficking and modern slavery; Jo Pride, former lawyer and current CEO of Hagar Australia; Marie Segrave, criminologist and associate professor at Monash University, and panel moderator Jacinta Lewin, senior associate in the social justice practice of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, applauded the introduction of anti-slavery legislation in Australia. However, they commented it is concerning that the MSA only captures corporate supply chains occurring offshore, and further that the Act is silent on penalties for non-compliance. In short, was the MSA a missed opportunity?

VWL believes well-drafted legislation is weakened without adequate enforcement mechanisms, particularly when it relies on corporate self-reporting in the way the MSA does. In addition, the MSA does not require the appointment of an Independent Slavery Commissioner, unlike the Modern Slavery Act in the UK.

There is an argument that enforcement with real teeth is required to adequately address misconduct or wilful blindness on the part of Australian companies.

However, the MSA does establish mandatory reporting criteria (unlike the UK Act). Additionally, the federal government has committed funding to provide non-binding guidance to businesses on slavery risks and reporting, in addition to establishing a free Online Modern Slavery Statements Register for public use to monitor performance under the Act. The MSA will be subject to a legislated three-year review. 

Naomi Hickey-Humble is co-chair of the VWL cultural diversity committee and Vanessa Shambrook is an executive committee member of VWL.

1. Hidden in Plain Sight (December 2017), Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Commonwealth of Australia, [3.4]).

2. Australian Government, Submission 89, Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, p2.

3. Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), s270.4.

 

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