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Modern Slavery in Australian operations and supply chains - the hidden risks.

If you think the risks of Modern Slavery are in overseas operations and supply chains only, think again.

Following on from our recent post on the Modern Slavery Legislation, we discuss the importance of not overlooking supply chains here in Australia.

With the reporting deadlines for the first Modern Slavery Statements fast approaching, many businesses are being asked to consider the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. While much of the focus on the risks of modern slavery will occur in relation to overseas operations and supply chains, it is important that businesses do not overlook the risks of modern slavery here in Australia.

What is Modern Slavery?

Modern slavery is a term used to describe situations where coercion, threats and/or deception are used to exploit victims and undermine or deprive them of their freedom. It covers a wide variety of activity, including forced labour, forced marriage, debt bondage and deceptive recruiting for labour or services. It is not a term to be applied to situations involving large scale wage underpayments or poor working conditions, but rather refers to situations where a person cannot refuse work because of threats or coercion or because they are deprived of their freedom.

But surely there isn’t any modern slavery happening in Australia?

The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimated that on any given day in 2016 there were 15,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Australia. In the 2019/2020 financial year, the Australian Federal Police received 223 reports of human trafficking, including:

• 92 reports of forced marriage,

• 29 reports of forced labour,

• 28 reports of trafficking in persons,

• 20 reports of domestic servitude,

• 6 reports of deceptive recruiting,

• 3 reports of debt bondage,

• 1 report of slavery.

A 2019 report by the Australian Institute of Criminology estimates that only 1 in 5 victims of modern slavery are detected in Australia.

Cases involving modern slavery have been brought before Australian courts and the Fair Work Commission. These cases often involve migrant workers who are reliant on employers for visa applications.

From the modern slavery cases that have come before the courts, it is apparent that most situations of modern slavery in Australia involve the exploitation of migrant workers on visas.

The risks facing migrant workers are a result of a combination of the inherent vulnerabilities associated with being a temporary migrant and the characteristics of the industry in which such migrants tend to work. Low-skilled migrant workers are vulnerable to forced labour exploitation. The charging of fees by migration agents (on and offshore) who organise visas or jobs for migrants is common, and may result in migrants arriving in Australia with large debts that need to be repaid. Cultural and language barriers, limited knowledge of workplace laws in Australia, and a reliance on employers who sponsor their temporary visas can also make migrant workers susceptible to modern slavery.

How does my business assess risks of Modern Slavery here in Australia?

The same process that goes into identifying risks of Modern Slavery overseas can be applied to Australia.

The following industries hold a higher risk of modern slavery, including, in Australia:

• Labour hire;

• Cleaning;

• Security;

• Construction;

• Hospitality;

• Agriculture, forestry and fishing; and

• Industries with a high percentage of young and/or migrant workers engaged to undertake unskilled labour.

How can my business address Modern Slavery risks in Australia?

It is important that when you map out your business’ supply chains, you do not overlook service providers in Australia. For example, your business may engage cleaning companies, security companies and catering services, as these industries are at a higher risk of Modern Slavery, even in Australia.

It is important that you start putting processes in place to ensure that the service providers you engage here in Australia are not engaging in Modern Slavery, and that your business is not contributing to the practice of Modern Slavery here at home.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has released its guide for the construction and property industry, and will be releasing guidance for a range of other industries, including the health, food and beverage and finance sectors over the coming months. The Global Slavery Index has also published information regarding Modern Slavery in Australia which may assist you in considering your risk areas.

How can we help?

Terri Bell & Co can provide assistance and advice to entities or businesses that need to comply with the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) or those businesses simply wishing to consider the risks of modern slavery occurring in their own supply chains. In particular, our team can assist with:

  1. Reviewing contracts with suppliers to address reporting requirements under the Modern Slavery Act;

  2. Interpreting the Modern Slavery Act and how it applies to your organisation;

  3. Identifying Modern Slavery Risks applicable to your organisation (whether you are a reporting entity, or a supplier to a reporting entity);

  4. Devising a framework for due diligence;

  5. Devising reporting channels and policies to assist board members and employees with responding to a case of modern slavery; and

  6. Assisting with the auditing process, including requirements for the auditing of your suppliers.

Call us on 61 2 9191 9856 or email info@tlblaw.com.au for more information.

IMPORTANT NOTICE - The information contained in this article is not intended to be comprehensive. It is general in nature and is not intended to be used as a substitute for legal, financial or other professional advice. You must seek specific professional advice tailored to your personal circumstances before taking any action based on this article.

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