Providing strong and effective protection against modern slavery requires crucial amendments to proposed laws to be introduced in Federal Parliament, Oxfam Australia said today.
Oxfam Australia’s Economic Policy Adviser Joy Kyriacou said the Modern Slavery Bill was an important step in the right direction, but lacked critical elements that would make sure Australian businesses could be held to account in the global effort to eradicate modern slavery.
“The Australian Government can take strong action to combat modern slavery, especially in the supply chains of Australian businesses – but the Bill introduced today does not go far enough,” Ms Kyriacou said.
“Oxfam is calling on the Government to amend the proposed Bill in an effort to eliminate modern slavery – which is estimated to effect more than 40 million people globally, more than 70 per cent of whom are women and girls.”
Ms Kyriacou said while Oxfam welcomed elements such as the Government providing its own statement on modern slavery risks and a central public register of reports, the Modern Slavery Bill should also include penalties for companies that fail to report or report misleading information on the steps they have taken to combat modern slavery.
“Effective laws also require the appointment of an independent commissioner to coordinate Government action, help educate companies about their obligations and be a public advocate on the issue,” Ms Kyriacou said.
“A commitment is also needed that a verified list will be published annually of the companies that are due to report – this level of transparency will allow companies to be held accountable and even the playing field for the businesses that are due to report.
“The laws should also apply to Government contracting, so that only companies that have complied with the legislation are able to access Government funding and contracts.
Ms Kyriacou said Australia – elected late last year to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council – had an obligation to introduce modern slavery laws that were more than a statement of principle.
“We know that exploitation, breaches of people’s human rights and modern slavery risks exist right across the supply chains of Australian companies,” Ms Kyriacou said.
“Last year, Oxfam released new research showing that on average, just four per cent of the price of each piece clothing sold in Australia goes towards the women who sewed it together – and in countries like Bangladesh, this figure drops to a meagre two per cent.
“Poverty wages alone mean mothers like 22-year-old Forida, a worker in Dhaka who earns just 35 cents an hour making our clothes, struggle just to ensure there is enough food for themselves and their children.
“While a strong Modern Slavery Bill will not address every human rights violation in the supply chains of big Australian companies – it will send a strong message to brands that this is not the way to get ahead.
“The Modern Slavery Bill must be amended, in order to make it stronger and to send this message loud and clear.” —