Australia urged to follow UK's lead in adopting tough anti-slavery laws

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Taking inspiration from Britain’s lead, Australia should introduce tough laws to root out forced labor from supply chains, compensate victims of slavery and appoint an anti-slavery commissioner, a parliamentary inquiry said on Thursday.

Australia must also tackle so-called orphanage tourism - whereby children are abused or trafficked for profit - and better protect vulnerable migrant workers, according to a report by the joint committee on foreign affairs, defense and trade.

“These heinous crimes are present across a range of industries in Australia and in the global supply chains of businesses and organizations operating here,” said Chris Crewther, chair of the foreign affairs and aid sub-committee.

The government could not be immediately reached for comment.

Australia is home to an estimated 4,300 victims of forced labor, sex exploitation and domestic servitude, the 2016 Global Slavery Index, by the Walk Free Foundation rights group, found.

Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop said in August that the government was looking to introduce anti-slavery laws as soon as possible, but did not specify a date.

The government has instigated two inquiries this year into the adoption of a Modern Slavery Act, inspired by Britain’s landmark anti-slavery law, which was passed in 2015.

Britain is considered a leader in global efforts to combat slavery, having passed laws to crack down on traffickers, check supply chains and protect people at risk of being enslaved.

It is also the first country to create an independent anti-slavery commissioner to scrutinize efforts to tackle the crime.

“The recommendations from this inquiry make a significant contribution to ensuring that, here in Australia, we are doing all we can to eradicate these crimes,” Crewther said in the foreword to the report, titled “Hidden in Plain Sight”.

Australia’s proposed law should require businesses with a revenue of more than $50 million to disclose action they have taken to ensure their supply chains are slavery-free, it said.

The report also called for changes to the country’s visa system to better protect migrant workers, a community hotline to report the crime and compensation for victims of modern slavery - funded through traffickers’ gains.

About 40 million people worldwide were living as modern slaves last year - trapped in forced labor or forced marriages - say the U.N. International Labour Organization and Walk Free.