By Cala Ahmed

The deadline for many businesses to submit modern slavery statements to the Australian Border Force Registry is fast approaching. For any businesses subject to mandatory or voluntary reporting requirements whose financial years run from July to June, your reports must be submitted by 31 December 2021.

The Modern Slavery Act 2018 (the Act) stipulates a national reporting standard on certain entities in respect of the actions they’ve taken during the reporting period to identify and address modern slavery risks. The requirement aims to hold Australian entities responsible for transparent and ethical supply chains, with the overall goal of preventing modern slavery practices.

As mandated by the Act, relevant bodies must prepare these reports and submit them to the Australian Border Force, where they’re then made publicly accessible through an online register. Complying with the reporting requirements is imperative to ensuring that Australian entities continue to operate ethically and proactively mitigate any undercurrents of modern slavery.

In this article, I explain what modern slavery is, why reporting requirements for Australian entities exist, and how to ensure your business remains compliant.

What is modern slavery?

While there’s no single agreed definition, modern slavery is often described as an umbrella term that refers to any situation where a person is forcibly or subtly controlled by an individual or a group for the purpose of exploitation (definition attributed to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime). Slavery can take shape in many forms including human trafficking, forced labour and child labour. Although it’s more typically associated with less-developed countries, modern slavery can involve Australian businesses too, including where the parameters of their supply chains and processes extend beyond national borders and reach global trade.

Even if your business isn’t directly involved in modern slavery practices, it’s important to consider your potential role in causing, contributing, or even being directly linked to modern slavery through your supply chain. For example, this can include setting unreasonable expectations on your suppliers which can only be met through unconscionable labour practices or entering into commercial arrangements with entities that utilise modern slavery in their products (for example, certain clothing and footwear manufacturers).

What are the requirements?

Since 2019, Australia has had national modern slavery reporting requirements under the Modern Slavery Act 2018. The Act requires that certain entities report publicly on their modern slavery risks both within their immediate organisation and externally by way of relationships formed through their supply chain. The reports must be submitted within six months of the end of the entity’s financial year.

Entities that are required to report under the Act include Australian businesses or those carrying out business in Australia with a consolidated revenue of at least $100 million for the specified financial year. Additionally, the Commonwealth is required to report, as are any corporate Commonwealth entities or companies.

Businesses that don’t meet the above criterion are also able to voluntarily report their modern slavery statements, and to date over 300 such reports have been lodged. This may be appropriate for organisations with high levels of ethical responsibility or where required as part of their commercial arrangements with larger entities.

Annual modern slavery statements should foster continuous improvement over time, and must fulfil the following criteria:

  1. the identity of the reporting entity;
  2. the structure, operations and supply chains of the reporting entity;
  3. the risks of modern slavery practices in the operations and supply chains of the reporting entity, and any entities that the reporting entity owns or controls;
  4. the actions taken by the reporting entity and any entity that the reporting entity owns or controls, to assess and address those risks (including due diligence and remediation processes);
  5. how the reporting entity assesses the effectiveness of such actions;
  6. the process of consultation with any entities the reporting entity owns or controls or is issuing a joint modern slavery statement with; and
  7. any other information that the reporting entity, or the entity giving the statement, considers relevant.

Some of these criteria can be more difficult to satisfy than others, and usually require a comprehensive review of the business’s operations, supply chain, industry, and initiatives.

Ensuring compliance

It’s incredibly important that entities required to report under the Act meet the criteria for their reporting obligations. Failure to produce statements may result in Border Force requests for explanation, remedial action, or a public display of ‘failed compliance’ on the slavery register. This can have significant impacts on a business’s reputation and the ability to enter into commercial relationships with organisations that prioritise ethical behaviour.

If your business requires assistance in meeting compliance obligations or have questions about modern slavery, please reach out to our team of experts at our 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service.

Not an HR Assured client and have questions about this article? Contact the team at HR Assured for a confidential, no-obligation phone call.

Cala Ahmed is a Workplace Relations Advisor and assists a variety of clients via the Telephone Advisory Service. She is currently studying for a Bachelor of Business/ Law.