Global Modern Slavery Developments (Part II): A Review of the New Australian Modern Slavery Act – By Shamistha Selvaratnam

Editor’s note: Shamistha Selvaratnam is a LLM Candidate of the Advanced Masters of European and International Human Rights Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands and a contributor to the Doing Business Right project of the Asser Institute. Prior to commencing the LLM, she worked as a business and human rights solicitor in Australia where she specialised in promoting business respect for human rights through engagement with policy, law and practice.


Soon after the introduction of the UK Modern Slavery Act (UK Act) in 2015, discussions about establishing similar legislation in Australia commenced. In February 2017, the Attorney-General asked the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (Committee) to commence an inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. The terms of reference of the inquiry included, inter alia, considering the ‘prevalence of modern slavery in the domestic and global supply chains of companies, businesses and organisations operating in Australia’ and whether a Modern Slavery Act comparable to the UK Act should be introduced in Australia. The Committee released an interim report in August 2017 and then a final report in December 2017 – both reports supported the idea of developing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia and set out the Committee’s recommendations with respect to the parameters of a corporate reporting requirement. In the meantime, the Australian Government also published a consultation paper and regulation impact statement outlining its proposed reporting requirement for an Australian Modern Slavery Act.

In June this year, the first draft of the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (Cth) (the Federal Bill) was introduced into the Australian Parliament. It set out a reporting requirement for large Australian entities to submit a statement on risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Federal Bill stated that it supports ‘large businesses to identify and address modern slavery risks and to develop and maintain responsible and transparent supply chains. It will drive a ‘race to the top’ as reporting entities compete for market funding and investor and consumer support.’ On 29 November 2018 the Federal Bill passed both houses of the Australian Parliament incorporating amendments made by the Upper House of Parliament. The amendments resulted in the inclusion of a provision giving the Minister power to request explanations from entities that fail to comply with the reporting requirement (discussed in further detail below) and gives the Minister the power to cause an annual report to be prepared providing an overview of compliance by entities and identifying best practice modern slavery reporting. 

This second blog of a series of articles dedicated to the global modern slavery developments provides an overview of the main elements of the Federal Bill and how it compares to the UK Act. It also discusses the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW) (NSW Act), which was introduced by New South Wales (NSW), a State in Australia. The introduction of NSW Act was relatively unexpected given the movement at the Federal level to introduce national legislation addressing modern slavery in the corporate context. Therefore, this blog will discuss the NSW Act’s interplay with the Federal Bill. It will be followed by a final piece on the modern slavery developments in other jurisdictions in the corporate context. More...