Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia

On Wednesday, 15 February 2017 the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, asked the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into and report on Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. Submissions supporting such an Act were invited from the public. 185 individuals,  organisations and businesses made submissions including STOP THE TRAFFIK and other like-minded groups. A series of public hearings has commenced, offering an opportunity for any interested person to hear summaries of these submissions followed by a brief Q and A between the presenters of their submission summaries and the Senators on the committee.

Here is a true story told in the course of the second public hearing on Friday June 23: An Australian woman was on holiday on a ship in waters off Thailand last year. Not far away she saw a much smaller ship which she was told was a Thai fishing vessel. She said she would like an opportunity to learn about the Thai fishing industry and was given a lift over to this boat and helped to climb aboard. Almost the first person she saw when she boarded this boat was a man wearing a metal collar, padlocked to the deck. “What’s happening?” she asked. “Oh, it’s a slave.”  “Why is he padlocked to the deck?” “So it doesn’t run away. If it’s not careful it’ll become fish fodder. You can buy it if you like” “How much?” asked the woman. “$700”.  After a quick phone call she was joined by another person from her own ship, they paid over the $700, had the young man freed and delivered him safely to authorities in Thailand.

Interestingly and sadly this story is almost a replica of the story told with STOP THE TRAFFIK’s first petition in 2009 to the Australian government about the importing of trafficked-tainted goods into Australia. In that incident, a man had already been thrown overboard and others were told “be careful the same thing doesn’t happen to you.” We thought some progress had been made following Carolyn and Fuzz Kitto’s talks last year with Thai Union, a large seafood company but clearly more needs to be done.

Back to the hearing last Friday. The first presenter was Andrew Forrest, founder and chairman of Walk Free. He was assisted by lawyer Fiona David, now on his staff and a long-time researcher and writer about human trafficking. Mr Forrest presented some statistics, some from Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index, for example, that there are currently around 45.5.million slaves worldwide. As a businessman, he emphasised the responsibility big business has to ensure that all stages in their supply chains are exploitation-free. He mentioned the investigation into his own Fortescue Metals and the discovery that one of his contractors was using forced and bonded labour. His rapid response was  “I’ll go to the media” and within 40 days this contractor was paying all his workers properly. Mr Forrest mentioned also one high profile company director (did not name him) who stated that he was afraid to audit his supply chains for fear of what he might find. There was considerable discussion during Mr Forrest’ session and subsequent ones about the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, his reservations about it and improvements that Australia could make, based on UK’s two-year experience of its Act. The benefit of having an independent Commissioner of Trafficking and Slavery and/or Ombudsman was also discussed during the day.

Next to present was Professor Jennifer Burn of Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA) with Professor Paul Redmond also of UTS. Jennifer Burn noted the importance of the government setting an example in ethical procurement, then moved on to the primary concern of ASA which is the prevention of trafficking into Australia and support for people trafficked here. Professor Burn was asked her opinion on gaps in current legislation. The Australian Federal Police is the only agency authorised to refer a person to the Support for Trafficked People Program. Some survivors of human trafficking and slavery may be fearful of meeting with law enforcement officials and might remain ineligible for support. She discussed also broadening the visa criteria to facilitate the grant of a visa pathway for survivors of human trafficking and slavery who are unable to contribute to criminal investigations (for fear of reprisal, the safety of family in the country of origin). Currently, they must agree to assist with the prosecution of their trafficker or after an initial 45 days, their support is withdrawn. Another gap, stated Professor Burn, was the discrepancy between the states and territories of Australia in the financial compensation made available to survivors.  

Professor Redmond spoke in some detail about the UK Modern Slavery Act and its shortcomings from his point of view.

Two representatives of Australian businesses spoke next. Konica Minolta, a manufacturer of photocopiers, printers and diagnostic imaging systems were the presenters who brought us the story in the introduction to this blog.  It was one of their staff, on a ‘reward – incentive’ trip who witnessed and helped that Thai fisherman. Konica Minolta has had an ethical sourcing project for 18 months.

Other NGOs such as The Salvation Army’s Freedom Network, STOP THE TRAFFIK, Global Compact and Baptist World Aid presented, as did several other businesses such as Nestle, Wesfarmers and Woolworths. Other social responsibility organisations represented were Australian Ethical Investment and the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility. Presenters and the public came and went over the course of the day but Andrew Forrest returned to hear STOP THE TRAFFIK and Baptist World Aid present their submissions.

All submissions can be found at They make very interesting reading. The transcripts of these public hearing are or will be available as well. Those from the first hearing on May 30 can now be read or downloaded. I highly recommend attending one of the hearings if you can – a great opportunity to see one of the ways in which an idea can become an Act of Parliament which in this case will benefit millions. After several years of lobbying, a Modern Slavery Act for Australia is likely to become a reality perhaps by the end of 2017, even it has taken someone with the profile of Mr Forrest to give the process a push. 

By Libby Sorrell

A Modern Slavery Act in Australia?

On Wednesday, 15 February 2017, the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, asked the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into and report on establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.  Both modern slavery on Australian shores and offshore slavery fall within the scope of the inquiry. This blog examines the need and purpose of an Australian Modern Slavery Act in relation to offshore modern slavery.


Why does Australia need a Modern Slavery Act?

Human rights protection has traditionally been a matter for the State. However, the NGO Global Justice Now has shown that in the list of the world’s top 100 economic entities, 31 are nation states and 69 are corporations. It follows that due to globalisation and the immense economic growth of corporations, it is now well recognised that there is a significant link between the way in which businesses operate and human rights.

 For the purpose of the inquiry, “Modern Slavery” refers to slavery, forced labour and wage exploitation, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced marriage and other slavery-like practices.  The International Labour Organisation estimates that of the 21 million people in situations of forced labour and slavery, 11.7 million are located in the Asia Pacific region, in countries that neighbour Australia. Further, it is estimated by the International Labour Office that slavery in these global supply chains generates about $US150 billion in revenue annually, with $US51 billion in profits generated from forced labour in this region.  Due to cheaper production costs, a great deal of labour in these countries is dedicated toward producing consumer goods sold in Western Nations, including Australia.

Given that the purpose of corporations is to pursue profits in the interests of shareholders, as it stands there is little incentive for businesses to ensure that their supply chains are free from modern slavery. This means that companies that cut corners in their supply chains and generate profits as a result of slavery are at a competitive edge over those that invest in the health, safety and reasonable remuneration of their workers.  Without adequate regulation in this space, it stands that businesses are not on a level playing field.

Further, while there has certainly been an increase in demand for ethically sourced products, consumers are only able to make informed decisions about purchasing choices when companies are transparent about their supply chains.  At present, there is little way of knowing what companies are really doing in their supply chains, and without particular standards of transparency in place, consumers are left to accept the information provided by businesses at face value.


The current laws in Australia

The principal legislation for corporate governance in Australia, the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth), places no obligations on companies or their directors to address human rights in company supply chains.

However, Australia has ratified a number of international human rights treaties relevant to addressing modern slavery.  These include:

·       The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and   Children of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (Palermo Protocol);

·       The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;

·       The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;

·       ILO Convention No. 182 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour;

·       The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime; and

·       The United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

There are also voluntary mechanisms for corporations in place, such as the United Nations Global Compact. The United Nations Global Compact aims to align business practices with human rights principles through a voluntary signatory scheme. Businesses that are signatory to the UNGC are provided with guidance and encouragement to bring about human rights best practice. The global compact is not regulatory, and its objectives are aspirational and left intentionally vague, meaning that businesses are given the flexibility to manage how they attempt to achieve them. 

Despite the ratification of the above conventions by numerous nations and an increase in voluntary corporate social responsibility schemes worldwide, statistics from the 2016 United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons show that the number of victims of forced labour has increased over the past 10 years. It follows that while some companies may be carrying out adequate human rights due diligence, a large number would appear to be using voluntary human rights mechanisms for the purpose of public relations.

There is evidently a hiatus in the law that requires addressing if Australia is to take its commitment to human rights seriously.  A Modern Slavery Act in Australia could not only assist in fulfilling the consumer demand for corporate transparency, but would also be a big step toward bringing Australian domestic law in line with our international human rights treaty obligations.


What would a Modern Slavery Act entail?

A number of other Western nations have enacted legislation that seeks to enforce a degree of accountability and transparency upon companies in order to minimise the risk of slavery in the production of goods and services.  It is the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (“the UK Act”) in the United Kingdom that appears to have prompted the Australian parliamentary inquiry into the introduction of similar legislation here.

The UK Act provides that a commercial organisation producing goods and services with value in excess of £36 million must comply with certain disclosure requirements. Companies falling within the ambit of the legislation are required to produce an annual slavery and human trafficking statement.  Companies are not required to take any particular measures in relation to combatting modern slavery, however they will be required to disclose when they have taken no measures to ensure human rights protections in their supply chains if this is the case.

There are equally no proscriptive requirements as to what a company’s disclosure statement should address.  The UK Act does however provide that the statement may contain information regarding the company’s structure and supply chains, policies in relation to slavery and information setting out the steps the organisation has taken to manage that risk. The statement must be signed by a senior organisation official and published on the company’s website.  There are no enforcement provisions or penalties for non-compliance. 

A number of submissions to the inquiry have accordingly stated that while the introduction of similar legislation in Australia is certainly something to be applauded,  what is needed in Australia is more stringent obligations on corporations, including penalties for non-compliance and directorial responsibility.

By Emily Scott.


Emily is an activist with STOP THE TRAFFIK and was a significant part of the team that prepared STOP THE TRAFFIK’s submission to Australia’s Inquiry into a Modern Slavery Act. She is a Melbourne based lawyer.

You can read the submissions to the Committee from various stakeholders here:

‘When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.'

‘When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ This is one of Antonie Fountain from the VOICE Network’s favourite sayings. For a long time we have said that certification systems such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ offer external verification against international standards that best practices are being upheld and they have been the best tools we have. Everyone acknowledges that they are not perfect and that they can’t do everything but they have been the best we have had. This is houw it works. A third party (FLOCERT for Fairtrade and SAN for Rainforest Alliance) audits the farmer co-operatives selling cocoa beans to the market to their internationally recognised standards. This offers assurance that the practices and principles set out by the certification systems are being adhered to. Once farmers pass this initial audit, the certifier awards co-operatives the certification logo. This enables the farmers to sell their cocoa beans as ‘certified’ to the cocoa market. Chocolate companies then buy this cocoa (often via a buyer/producer) and after paying a fee are permitted to put the certification scheme’s logo on the end-product that they sell to you. The amount of raw cocoa they buy determines the amount of end-product they are permitted to label through a formula called mass balance.


Certification has become the expected baseline within the chocolate industry. As consumers, we now expect to have someone verifying that, when companies promise to respect their workers’ human rights, they are keeping this promise.


Mars, Hershey and Ferrero have committed to 100% cocoa bean certification by 2020 and Nestlé has 100% certification of its UK, Australian and New Zealand produced chocolate bars and KitKat as well as Milo in Australia and New Zealand.


But there are other tools emerging as being important. Increasingly, chocolate companies are moving beyond certification as a verification of minimum requirements of responsible practice to invest in local cocoa-growing communities.


Often with higher financial and political capital, chocolate companies are perfectly poised to resource the communities that grow their raw materials. By working in collaboration with national governments, the exporters, cooperatives, and NGOs, multinational corporations can work with and for cocoa growing communities.


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has moved from philanthropic giving to facilitating development, and now to companies becoming the proactive agents and architects of development.[1]  Mondelēz (owners of Cadbury and Toblerone as well as others), Nestlé, Mars and Lindt and Sprüngli have devised ambitious projects that tackle the lack of infrastructure – such as school buildings, health centres, and boreholes. Their programmes also provide training on child protection and aim to empower women. Studies have found a strong correlation between investing in women and increased school attendance and when a child is at school they are not working![2] Nestlé have rolled out a very impressive child labour monitoring and remediation scheme across their Cocoa Plan farms in Côte d’Ivoire and are now implementing it in Ghana.


The major difference between certification and corporate programmes is the acknowledgement that they need to go beyond economic empowerment if child labour and human trafficking are to be tackled. Recognising that poverty is multidimensional, many companies are also investing in the social conditions of cocoa-growing communities. Based on community action plans devised by farming communities in collaboration with locally based NGOs, initiatives aim to tackle the underlying structural constraints of poverty that contribute to child labour and human trafficking. Community-based projects like Mondelēz’s Cocoa Life and the Nestlé Cocoa Plan attempt to challenge the adverse social factors, such as lack of access to schools, that contribute to child labour, with the aim of building resilient communities as a long-term solution to poverty in cocoa-growing areas.


To read more on what the chocolate companies are doing go to our report “A Matter of Taste”


[1] Rajak, D. (2011) In Good Company: An Anatomy of Corporate Social Responsibility. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

[2] Marston, A. (2016) Women’s Rights in the Cocoa Sector: Examples of Emerging Good Practice, Oxfam.

Is Lindt OK?

These are the questions we keep getting asked? Our A Matter of Taste Report is researched and written to help you answer these questions. The reality is the scene has changed and in some cases the chocolate companies are actually doing more to end human trafficking and child labour than some of the certification schemes.

The best mix combines the programs of chocolate companies with certification, like Nestle with UTZ. This provides the robustness of independent audits and best practice on child labour monitoring and remediation, community development, improving agricultural methods and empowering women and youth. Mondelez (Cadbury and Toblerone) are doing a variation of this with their new partnership with FLOCERT (Fairtrade’s standard setting and auditing body)

What about Lindt?

Lindt & Sprüngli have opted for company control of their entire supply chain. Lindt & Sprüngli have devised their own verification framework which monitors child labour on farms and adherence to the company’s standards of best practice. It is externally verified by The Forest Trust, ( supply chain, social and environmental experts.) 

Where they are excelling is in the following

·      They source from farmers rather than cooperatives and therefore have the deepest connection with their farmers of all schemes and companies. Every farm they source from is visited every year. Human trafficking happens in farms not co-ops, so they are likely to know what is happening on the ground.

·      They do a baseline assessment of every farm which includes knowing the number of school age children and the distance to the nearest school. This is important in addressing child labour – if a child is in school, they aren’t working.

·      They have trained more than 50,000 farmers in agricultural, social, environmental and business practices. This includes sensitisation on child labour and human trafficking. The model then has farmers who are trained passing on their knowledge to neighbouring farmers.

·      Their supplier code of conduct is robust when it comes to child labour and human trafficking and their 250 field staff make unannounced visits to farms (with an emphasis on those at risk)

·      They are engaging community development activities developed with the farmer communities.

·      They are only sourcing from Ghana where reports on human trafficking have been absent.

Lindt still needs to publish their impact reports and expand their community development. In terms of addressing human trafficking, in a multi-dimensional approach, they are using some of the leading practices.

Increasingly, chocolate companies are moving beyond certification as a verification of minimum requirements of responsible practice to invest in local cocoa-growing communities. Given that child labour is a social ramification of poverty, companies are embracing their role as agents of development, as advocated by the UN, and supporting the idea of resilient communities.

How to Have a Guilt Free Christmas

Christmas time is a wonderful time of the year where Australians gather and celebrate with millions of extra dollars spent on food and presents. It’s easy to get distracted in the hustle and bustle, and find yourself not considering where all of your produce and gifts come from, and who is making them. Unfortunately, whenever there is an increase in demand for a product, such as Christmas time, it means there is a higher demand on sweatshops and farmers for toys and produce. However, we as consumers, have the power through our wallets to create the demand and make choices on products that are ethically and responsibly produced. In this article, I go through just a couple of areas where we can make easy guilt-free decisions that support local producers, and help us have an ethical Christmas!

The 3 Big Ones

1. Prawns!

Prawns are an essential staple to the traditional Aussie Christmas Lunch, yet the seafood sector is one of the largest industries plagued by forced labour and human trafficking. In Australia, Thailand is our largest seafood supplier with up to 20% of workers on Thai boats estimated to have been trafficked and forced to work in harsh conditions up to 20 hours a day, with inadequate food and abusive supervisors. So unfortunately, chances are that the prawns on our Christmas table would have been handled by those who have been trafficked.

When going to the shops, you’ll find that imported prawns and seafood are generally the cheaper ones on the shelves, but that’s a red flag for potential forced labour in our South-East Asian neighbours’ fisheries.

“40 per cent of fishers surveyed had experienced arbitrary wage deductions, 17 per cent were threatened with violence and roughly one in ten had attempted to escape, been severely beaten or both.” (Greenpeace Report, 2015)

A big tip for buying your prawns and fish this Christmas, is to check the label to see where they were caught, and choose those marked Australian in origin. This makes a big difference as Australia has higher processing standards and quality control monitoring, which means there is a much lower chance for forced labour occurrence. All major grocery stores in Australia (Coles, Woolworths & Aldi) make a big effort to investigate their supply chains and each stock Australian harvested prawns, and has the origin clearly labelled for you to know exactly what you are buying into.

2. Desserts!

No Christmas is complete without beautiful sweets and desserts to finish off the meal! There’s nothing like kicking back, talking with family and friends with a cup of tea in hand while dessert is being carried out to the table. As always, the big one to look out for in your desserts is chocolate! Cocoa is one of the most well publicised industries where trafficking and forced labour occurs, with millions of children and adults every year forced to pick the cocoa beans to make the chocolate we all love. This Christmas, whether you are using chocolate in your cooking, giving it as gifts, or eating straight from the block, there are multiple Fairtrade alternatives to make eating that chocolate a justified reward!

“In 2013/14, 2.03 million children were found in hazardous work in cocoa production in both [Cote d’lvoire & Ghana] combined.”

The major grocery stores all have at least one brand that is Fairtrade, so they’re not too hard to find. ‘Green & Blacks’ is a personal favourite of mine, due to their range of flavours, being organic, and supporting local cocoa farmers in Central America. ‘Cadbury’ and ‘Whittaker’s’ are the creamy classics, but be careful as only some of their range is Fairtrade certified. Otherwise, if you are looking for some fancy gifts for the chocoholics in the family, upmarket Australian store ‘Haigh’s’, is UTZ certified and committed to sustainable and ethical chocolate production.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a simple after dinner ice-cream snack, the ‘Ben & Jerry’s’ range is completely Fairtrade and has so many great flavours to choose from!

3. Presents!

Another area that should be of concern for everyone at this time of year, is where our beloved Christmas presents come from. We want to be able to give a great gift to friends and family, but we also want to give a gift that isn’t causing harm to those who make them!

Clothes and sports equipment are always a big hit for kids and adults alike however, a large amount of activewear and sports equipment is hand stitched by thousands underpaid or trafficked workers, including children, in India and Pakistan. Companies are often in the limelight for labour scandals, however there are a few online alternatives which provide Fairtrade and ethical sports goods, which are great for presents with a clear conscience! A great example is the online store ‘RREPP’, which has a large range of footballs, soccer balls, netballs, as well as a few activewear items. They ensure ethical processes at each stage of production from cotton picking to stitching, to packing.  

In Uttar Pradesh in India, “9% of boys and 18% of girls aged 6-17 years were pursuing full time soccer ball stitching activity, and a significant proportion (43% of boys and 57% of girls) were engaged in both stitching as well as school activity” (ILRF Report, 2010)

Alternatively, if you’re not sure what to buy your family or friends for Christmas, why not buy them a gift that makes a difference? There are plenty of NGO’s and charities that sell gifts to support, or that are made by the disadvantaged in Australia or overseas to support their local businesses and empower them to move out of extreme poverty. This is a great way to support families in vulnerable areas, as there is no forced labour in the making of the products and the money goes straight to that family. How often can you buy a gift that puts a big smile on your face, as well as knowing that it has such a bigger impact to those who made it?!

Finally, if in doubt on where to shop or how ethical your Christmas present ideas might be, there are some great online resources which provide ratings and a breakdown of the brand’s history, to give you the full picture of what your money is supporting. Why don’t you check out ‘Good on You’ or ‘Shop Ethical’ which are very handy tools to prepare your Christmas shopping list!


Quick Tips:

  • Look for the ‘Australian grown’ or ‘Australian origin’ label on your seafood and meat to prevent buying imported goods where forced labour is common
  • Look for the Fairtrade or UTZ symbols on your chocolate, tea and coffee when it comes to dessert time to ensure the after-lunch treat is as good for the farmers as it is for you
  • Check the label to see where your gifts were made, and do some quick research to see if there is any history or evidence of potential forced labour in the production process.
  • Consider buying alternative charitable gifts which can support and empower the local businesses of those in poverty
  • Search your go-to shops and brands on ethical apps or websites to see where your present or food is coming from and the company’s dedication to a fair society
  • At Christmas dinner, mention the thought that you put in to choosing your food and presents and the reasoning behind it to spread awareness with your family and friends. It’s the perfect opportunity to share what you have learnt and to get others to start thinking about how they shop!

Merry Christmas!
RREPP website
“Missed the Goal for Workers” An International Labor Rights Forum Report, 7th June 2010
“Dodgy Prawns”, Greenpeace Report, December 201

Rana Plaza – Three years on from the factory collapse

Rana Plaza – Three years on from the factory collapse

April 24 marks the three year anniversary of one of the worst industrial disasters in the world. In 2013, a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed killing 1100 people.  The factory was one of many in Bangladesh’s large apparel manufacturing industry, producing clothes exclusively for consumption in the west. I went there in January, as a supply chain consultant, I wanted to see for myself the truth about the worst of what can happen in sourcing our materials across a complex – and often exploitative - supply chain.

Human Trafficking in the Fashion Industry - Take Action Now

Human Trafficking in the Fashion Industry - Take Action Now

Did you know that a young girl of 14 may have been trafficked to make your cotton t-shirt? Did you also know that you have the power to stop that from happening?

The 18-22nd of April is Fashion Revolution week and it is a great way for people to raise awareness and take action against the trafficking of people in the clothing industry.


There are so many sad, bad stories!

There are so many sad, bad stories!

There are so many sad, bad stories! Everyone we have met with tells that it exists and that some attempts are being made to do something about it. There is scepticism amongst many that it will only be a superficial attempt at change. Corruption is the key dynamic. Human trafficking and forced labour is in the Prawn peeling factories, the fishing boats for the fishmeal for the prawn farms particularly and is widespread.

Vignettes from India

Vignettes from India

Baptist World Aid: Our Advocacy Team have recently returned from India; a trip which deepened our understanding of modern day slavery and human trafficking at Baptist World Aid Australia. They saw, first hand, the impact of the incredible work our Christian Partner has been doing in at risk communities and spent time connecting with survivors of trafficking and slavery.  These are the stories they brought home with them...