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Retailers expected to deliver first modern slavery reports next year

Businesses with turnovers of more than $100 million will have to report what they are doing to stamp out slavery in supply chains after legislation got the final tick of approval in parliament yesterday.

The House of Representatives approved amendments to the draft laws which were raised in the Senate, giving the minister the ability to send companies a please explain if they fail to report.

The minister also must report annually to parliament about how the regime is working.

The Australian Retailers Association’s (ARA) executive director Russell Zimmerman said the new law strikes the right balance between pragmatism and protections for human rights.

“The complex and interconnected nature of many supply chains can cause major headaches for retailers when trying to eliminate unethical practices and potentially also when complying with modern slavery reporting,” he said, citing previous calls for strict penalties and the introduction of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner as going too far.

The ARA undertook comprehensive consultations with major retailers, submitted to three separate inquiries and engaged directly with the federal government over 18 months to ensure that the new requirements were flexible and practical for retailers.

Zimmerman said the body would be seeking further clarity on behalf of retailers going forward on a number of points, including for concession retailers and resellers, as well as the financial impact of the extensive auditing which will be required to satisfy the reporting obligations.

Retailers are expected to deliver their first reports by the end of the 2019/2020 financial year.

In contrast to the ARA, however, the Australian Council of Trade Unions blasted the law as being “weak” and ineffective, since companies that don’t report, or false report, will not be penalised.

Instead, civil penalties will be examined in a review of the scheme which will occur three years after the laws come into place.

“As it stands, this bill doesn’t send a strong enough message to companies – we need fines in order to really be able to say they cannot get away with tolerating the presence of slavery as ‘business as usual’,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil said.

Labor’s attempted penalties amendment failed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The opposition also wanted forced marriage dropped from the bill’s definition of slavery, raising fears it could drive the practice further underground.

Modern slavery practices include people trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and forced marriage.

More than 40 million people worldwide are believed to be victims of modern slavery, including 4300 Australians.

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