On 1 January 2019, the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) commenced, heralding a new statutory modern slavery reporting requirement for larger companies operating in Australia. Reporting obligations relate to the steps taken to respond to the risk of modern slavery in the operations and supply chains of the reporting entity and its controlled entities; and the reporting criteria are mandatory.
At its broadest, the term ‘modern slavery’ refers to any situations of exploitation where a person cannot refuse or leave work because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. The Australian regime defines modern slavery to incorporate conduct that would constitute an offence under existing human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like offence provisions set out in Divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code.
Modern slavery therefore encompasses slavery, servitude, the worst forms of child labour, forced labour, human trafficking, debt bondage, slavery like practices, forced marriage and deceptive recruiting for labour or services.
As at September 2017, the Walk Free Foundation’s Global Slavery Index estimates:
- in excess of 40 million people globally are subject to some form of modern slavery and collectively approximately US$150 billion per year is generated in the global private economy from forced labour alone;
- 30,435,300 people in Asia-Pacific Region are ‘enslaved’ (66.4 per cent of all people enslaved); and
- 4,300 people in Australia are enslaved.
Many Australian businesses may be unaware of the risk that they have slavery in their business or supply chains. Statistically, the incidence of modern slavery within Australia appears to be relatively low, but the concern is that the statistics reflect a low level of awareness of the issues, and the actual incidence may be much higher, both domestically and overseas.