‘If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.’
Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Albert G. Hodges, 4 April 1864.
Over 150 years after the abolition of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, over 40 million people around the world are estimated to be victims of some form of ‘modern slavery’. Today, ‘modern slavery’ describes a range of exploitative practices including, but not limited to, slavery, servitude, forced labour, child labour, forced marriage, bonded labour and other slavery-like practices. In Australia, ‘modern slavery’ is often described as being ‘hidden in plain sight’ across a range of industries and in the global supply chains of businesses, organisations and other entities operating here.
Governments around the world, including Australia, have committed to eliminating modern slavery domestically and internationally. The United Kingdom (UK) Government has taken a lead in the global effort to combat modern slavery and in 2015 introduced a range of new measures in its Modern Slavery Act 2015.
This report summarises the findings of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s (Committee) inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia undertaken by the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee.
Overview of inquiry
Combatting modern slavery
The Committee recognises the Australian Government’s long-standing commitment to combatting modern slavery in Australia and around the world. This inquiry examines Australia’s legislative and policy frameworks in light of recent international developments to assess how the Australian Government can better address these crimes.
This inquiry contributes to the growing international momentum to combat modern slavery, highlighted by initiatives such as Alliance 8.7 and the UK Prime Minister’s call to action to address modern slavery, endorsed by 37 members and observers, including Australia, at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on 19 September 2017.
Support for addressing modern slavery
The Committee heard significant support from a range of governments, businesses, non-government organisations (NGOs) and individuals for this inquiry, which aims to address modern slavery in Australia and around the world.
The UK Home Secretary, Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP, welcomed the inquiry highlighting that:
… strong national action to tackle modem slavery, supported by a comprehensive legislative framework is essential if we are to eliminate slavery on a global scale. By bringing it to the forefront of public consciousness, driving progress with a wide range of partners, including business, and stepping up effective international cooperation on this issue, we may together make eradicating slavery a possibility.
His Excellency Archbishop Paul Gallagher submitted his appreciation on behalf of the Holy See for the scope of the Committee’s inquiry:
The scourge of modern slavery has reached such worrying proportions that initiatives such as yours are increasingly important and necessary. I wish to express the appreciation of the Holy See for this undertaking of the Australian Parliament, which responds to the appeal that Pope Francis addressed to "all people of faith, leaders, governments, businesses, all men and women of good will, to give their strong support and join in the action against modern slavery in all its forms".
The Committee also heard support for its inquiry as an important contribution to global efforts to combat modern slavery. International human rights expert, Dr Anne Gallagher AO, told the Committee that eliminating modern slavery won’t be achieved with any single inquiry or piece of legislation, but through a long‑term commitment to addressing exploitation:
Human exploitation is not an aberration, rather it's built our world and continues to power economic growth. It's sobering to reflect that global wealth and productivity would be under serious threat if exploitation were suddenly and completely moved from the equation. These painful realities shouldn't stop us, but they should make us very wary of quick fixes, of magic bullets, of those who pledge and promise what is not within their power to deliver. A solution to exploitation of human beings for private profit is, I believe, within our grasp, but it will require much more of us, not least a commitment to being in this battle for the long haul.
Summary of evidence
Noting the leadership of the UK Government in the global effort to combat modern slavery, a key question for this inquiry was to examine the effectiveness of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 (UK Act) and assess whether similar or improved measures could be introduced in Australia.
The Committee heard significant support for establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. In most cases, this support focussed on those aspects of the UK Act that are not already present in Australia’s legislative and policy framework, namely transparency in supply chain reporting and an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Submissions to the inquiry focussed on six key issues:
establishing an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner;
transparency in global supply chains;
support for survivors of modern slavery;
criminal justice responses to modern slavery;
child exploitation as a result of orphanage trafficking; and
labour exploitation, particularly for migrant workers, and gaps in Australia’s visa framework.
Conduct of the inquiry
On 24 November 2016, the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee, chaired by Mr Chris Crewther MP, resolved to seek a referral for an inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.
On 15 February 2017, following a request from the Committee, the Attorney‑General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, referred the inquiry to the Committee. On 15 February 2017, the Committee referred the inquiry to its Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub‑Committee to undertake.
The Committee received and published 225 submissions. Submissions are available on the Committee’s website. The full list of submissions and other evidence is at Appendix A.
The Committee held 10 public hearings in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Mildura. Transcripts of these hearings are available on the Committee’s website. The full list of public hearings and witnesses is at Appendix B.
The Committee received 22 exhibits. The full list of exhibits is at Appendix C. The full list of correspondence, tabled documents and questions on notice is at Appendix D.
The Committee thanks those submitters and witnesses who have provided evidence to the inquiry.
The Committee has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to addressing issues of human trafficking, slavery and exploitation. This inquiry builds on the 2013 report of the Human Rights Sub‑Committee’s inquiry into slavery, slavery-like conditions and people trafficking, Trading Lives: Modern Day Human Trafficking.
In referring the inquiry, the Attorney-General requested the Committee ensure there would be no unnecessary overlap between this inquiry and an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (PJCLE) into human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices. The report for the PJCLE’s inquiry was tabled on 18 July 2017.
The Committee notes that many of the issues identified in this report are the subject of a number of ongoing government inquiries, including the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest trail campaign and the Treasury’s Black Economy Taskforce.
Delegation to the UK
In April/May 2017, a delegation from the Committee visited the UK and met with a number of parliamentarians, non-government organisations, legal experts, businesses that are required to report under the UK Act, and government officials responsible for its implementation. The itinerary and outcomes for the delegation are included in the Committee’s interim report.
On 17 August 2017, the Committee tabled its interim report, Modern slavery and global supply chains. The interim report focussed on two aspects of the UK Act relating to requirements for certain entities to report on measures to address modern slavery risks in their global supply chains and establishing an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
The Committee resolved to table its interim report ahead of the Bali Process Government and Business Forum, Co-Chaired by Australia and Indonesia on 24 and 25 August 2017 in Perth. Australia’s Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking told the Committee:
The timing and the content of your interim report … played an important role in enhancing the atmospherics and the way in which the government was able to progress its agenda on that occasion.
On 16 August, immediately preceding the Committee’s interim report, the Australian Government announced its support for introducing a reporting requirement and released a consultation paper seeking comment on a proposed model. Chapter 5 assesses the proposed model and follows up on the issues identified in the interim report.
Outline of report
Chapter 2 compares the UK Act with Australia’s existing legal and policy frameworks to combat modern slavery and assesses recommendations from submitters to introduce a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.
Chapter 3 outlines the challenges in defining and measuring modern slavery in Australia and globally. This chapter outlines the current definitions of modern slavery crimes under Australian and international law and examines options for improving data collection on the prevalence of modern slavery in Australia.
Chapter 4 builds on the Committee’s interim report and assesses recommendations from submitters to establish an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner similar to the role established under the UK Act.
Chapter 5 also builds on the Committee’s interim report and assesses the Australian Government’s proposed model for introducing a supply chain reporting requirement, similar to section 54 of the UK Act.
Chapter 6 examines how to better improve support for victims of modern slavery in Australia. This chapter assesses recommendations from submitters for introducing a non-punishment principle for victims and a federal compensation scheme.
Chapter 7 examines ways to improve Australia’s criminal justice responses to combatting modern slavery in order to improve identification of victims and prosecution of offenders, as well as raising awareness of modern slavery in the Australian community.
Chapter 8 examines the specific issue of orphanage trafficking and child exploitation in overseas residential institutions (or ‘orphanages’). This chapter examines proposed measures to ensure that Australian tourists and donors do not contribute to the exploitation of children through orphanage trafficking and how to better support child victims of these crimes.
Chapter 9 examines specific measures to address labour exploitation, particularly for migrant workers, including changes to Australia’s visa framework and the introduction of a labour hire licensing scheme.