Breaking modern slavery update – parliamentary report supports legislation banning imports made from forced labour

08 July 2021

The Bill seeks to amend the Customs Act 1901 to ban the importation of goods from Xinjiang in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as well as goods from other parts of the PRC that are produced in whole or part by forced labour. On 17 June 2021, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee (Committee) handed down its report on the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020 (Bill).

The Bill was referred to the Committee on 10 December 2020 and a public hearing was held in Canberra on 27 April 2021.

The Bill follows growing evidence of forced labour and extensive state-sponsored repression and human rights abuses of Muslim minorities, mostly Uyghurs, in the PRC, as well as the Australian Government’s wider crackdown on modern slavery, with the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (MS Act) commencing on 1 January 2019.

The MS Act requires the Commonwealth and entities with an annual consolidated turnover of more than $100million to report annually on modern slavery risks in their supply chains.

The Committee made 14 recommendations, including:

  1. The Customs Act 1901 and/or other relevant legislation be amended to prohibit the import of any goods made wholly or in part with forced labour, regardless of geographic origin;
  2. Empowering the Australian Border Force with investigative powers and to issue ‘rebuttable presumptions’ for specific goods, companies and/or regions with particularly high risk of being associated with forced labour;
  3. Amending the Commonwealth Procurement Rules requiring Government agencies undertake due diligence to identify possible forced labour in procurements;
  4. Home Affairs establish a working group to examine the role emerging technologies can play in tracing the geographical origin of products and raw materials;
  5. The Government establish and maintain a list of products or companies considered to be at high-risk of being produced by forced labour; and
  6. The development of further guidelines to assist Australian businesses to avoid sourcing products from forced labour.

Recommendations to the MS Act

The Committee also recommended:

  1. The MS Act be reviewed as soon as possible following the conclusion of the first reporting cycle on 30 June 2021; and
  2. The review of the MS Act considers provisions for its strengthening and broadening, together with the establishment of an independent body to oversee and enforce its implementation.

If adopted, this would see the establishment of an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner under the MS Act, similar to the Commissioner under the NSW Modern Slavery Act (2018), that legislation still being under review, but due to be finalised and commence imminently.

The Committee’s recommendations are not binding and Government is required to respond to the recommendations within 3 months from the date of the report. The full report can be accessed here.

This article was written by Scott Alden, Partner, Victoria Gordon, Senior Associate and Ben Playford, Work Experience Student.

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