Retailers welcome modern slavery legislation
“We’re on a journey of continuous improvement and are committed to building on our robust ethical-sourcing program which was formalised in 2009,” Cotton On Group sustainability and ethical sourcing manager Sonya Rand said.
“We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved to date, including increasing the transparency of our supply chain and publicly disclosing our supplier list.”
German supermarket chain Aldi called the act a “huge step in the right direction” in eliminating the problem in Australian businesses, noting that doing so requires considerable diligence, investment and resources.
“There is no place for modern slavery in our business or our extended supply chains,” Aldi Australia’s corporate responsibility director, Daniel Baker, said.
“[The bill] is set to play an important role in creating awareness of this issue, and more importantly, it will build the required accountability in the practices of Australian businesses.”
Under the bill, which passed through parliament last week, businesses with annual turnover of more than $100 million will now have to report efforts to stamp out slavery in their supply chains going forward.
According to the Australian Retailers Association, the first modern slavery reports are set to be completed by the end of the 2019-20 financial year.
“These new laws will introduce a collective approach to address instances of modern slavery, which will make it far easier for individual organisations to make a bigger impact through their supply chains,” ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman said.
“We believe a competitive, market-based approach to investigating and stopping modern slavery will product results by encouraging a ‘race-to-the-top’ mentality among retailers.”
As Zimmerman noted, the complex and interconnected nature of many supply chains can cause major headaches for retailers when trying to eliminate unethical practices. However, he said the new laws strike the right balance between pragmatism and protection for human rights.
However, not all believe the regulation is strong enough, with the Australian Council of Trade Unions noting that without penalties the law is weak and ineffective.
ACTU president Michael O’Neil said the bill doesn’t send a strong enough message to companies, and that imposing fines would ensure businesses don’t get away with a “business as usual” tolerance of slavery in the supply chain.
Civil penalties are to be examined in a review of the scheme, which is set to occur three years after the laws come into place.
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