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Use Your Voice: Australia’s Modern Slavery Act

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

History is made up of many decisions and adjustments to the way things are. At critical times, our voices can be highly significant in influencing and bringing about changes that have impacted the lives of others. 

Now is a time when our voices really do matter. There is a Parliamentary inquiry afoot, with proposals being developed for a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. There are presently 21 million people in slavery throughout the world (Baptist World Aid, Modern Slavery Act Explainer 2017) and there are 168 million children trapped in child labour around the world (United Nations 2017).

It has been shown that there are many goods imported into Australia which may have involved forced or trafficked labour, such as cocoa, bricks, pavers, cotton, clothing, carpets, rice, palm oil and textiles. For example, forced child labour is used to pick cotton in Uzbekistan, 99.5% of which is exported to Asia. That cotton is then used in the production of clothing for export to countries like Australia (Unshackling Laws Against Slavery, Stop the Traffik, 2011). Baptist World Aid reports that only 7% of Australian clothing companies they reviewed know where their cotton comes from (Ethical Fashion Report, 2017). In Assam, India, families living in desperate poverty sell their children, thinking they will have a better future. But the children are passed into forced labour, picking tea without a wage (Truth About Tea Plantations, Stop the Traffik).

Understanding that we have a shared responsibility to address these problems, proposals for a Modern Slavery Act for Australia seek to create greater transparency, requiring large companies to take proactive measures ensuring that slavery plays no part in the production of their goods. 

But we are concerned that the design of this Act be robust enough to deal with the breadth of the problem of modern slavery. We should be insisting that a strong and effective Act be developed on our behalf. This Act is currently being explored by our parliament, so the time to do this is now.

One important issue concerns the reporting threshold. The income threshold for mandatory reporting should match the Australian Government’s definition of a large company (earning $25 million or more). Current proposals set the mandatory reporting threshold at $100 million. Many companies of this size are already addressing the issues. In the UK, a threshold of £36 million was set ($60 million Australian). Smaller but high-risk industries should also be required to report.

Another issue is the appointment of a commissioner to oversee the implementation of the Act and the reporting process. A commissioner is needed to bridge departments, such as human services and law enforcement, as well as engaging with states, NGOs, unions, businesses and the legal profession.

Alongside Stop the Traffik, GMP holds numerous concerns for the design of this Act. GMP is calling on individuals and churches to contact their local parliamentary representative and request that a robust Modern Slavery Act be developed. This might involve writing a letter (templates are available at www.beslavefree.org) or phoning the MP’s office to register your concern. The more this happens, the more likely the issues will be put on the agenda. 

Further information on issues that should be raised with your local MP can be obtained at
www.beslavefree.org

Please contact me if you would like any further support sam@gmp.org.au

Let’s make the most of the democratic process.

Sam Curkpatrick,
Partnership Coordinator VIC/TAS

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