June 28, 2018 / 9:09 AM / 18 days ago

Australia proposes law to stop 'modern slavery'

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia said on Thursday it plans to halt modern slavery by forcing more than 3,000 businesses to report what they are doing to avoid using forced labor in their supply chains, but one rights group said the proposed bill does not go far enough.

The Modern Slavery Bill seeks to stamp out the sale of any product in Australia that involves non-voluntary labor, said Assistant Minister for Home Affairs Alex Hawke, who introduced the bill, which emulates Britain’s Modern Slavery Act, in parliament.

If it passes, the law would force all businesses with revenue exceeding A$100 million ($73.44 million) a year to report what they have done to prevent modern slavery being used in their supply chains.

More than 3,000 businesses are expected to be involved, Hawke said in a statement.

“We are asking businesses to report on both what has and what has not worked in their efforts to stamp out modern slavery,” Hawke said.

“Over time, we believe this bill will foster a ‘race to the top’ culture that will ensure Australia is a regional and world leader in tackling modern slavery in supply chains.”

Human rights campaigner Oxfam Australia said the bill was a positive step but did not go far enough.

“There needs to be penalties for companies that don’t comply or that give false or incorrect information,” said Oxfam Australia Economic Policy Adviser Joy Kyriacou in a telephone interview.

“The evidence from the UK, where they don’t have any penalties for non-compliance, is that a very minimal number of companies that are due to report under their modern slavery act actually have reported at all,” she added.

Kyriacou called for an independent slavery commissioner and a commitment from the government to publish a verified list of companies which have reported anti-slavery action.

The British law introduced life sentences for traffickers, measures to protect people at risk of being enslaved and made large companies scrutinize supply chains for forced labor.

There were 45.8 million slaves in the world in 2016, more than two years earlier, according to non-profit group Global Slavery Index.

($1 = 1.3617 Australian dollars)

Editing by Byron Kaye and Nick Macfie

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