The Modern Slavery Act 2018 took effect on 1 January 2019. The Act finally crystallises the Government’s commitment to aiding the reduction of modern slavery, estimated to affect 40 million people worldwide. It puts the onus on corporations to ensure that they are not unwittingly playing a role in enabling the enslavement of people for financial gain.
Australian businesses with a consolidated revenue exceeding $100 million will be required to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and outline the steps they have taken to mitigate those risks. This statement will need to be approved by the Board and signed by a director. All statements will be made publicly available on a central register maintained by the government.
The introduction of an Independent Statutory Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and penalties for non-compliance, have been omitted from the Act, despite garnering broad support during the Parliamentary inquiry and being a central feature of the UK approach. The Government maintains that the ability to ‘name and shame’ non-compliant businesses will be incentive enough for directors to ensure their company meets the reporting requirements. However, pending the outcome of the 2019 federal election and with a change in Government, there is potential that the Act will be modified in favour of these requirements by the time the first modern slavery statements are due on 30 June 2020.
Mining companies operating in foreign jurisdictions within which human rights abuses are prevalent should be particularly attentive to the new legislation. Strict supply chain management, and a cautious approach to procurement, should be central to business operations. Smaller mining companies seeking to review their own operations may obtain useful guidance by looking at the approach taken by some of the larger players, for example, South32’s proactive approach to developing a framework for identifying modern slavery risks within their sphere of influence.