Modern slavery is a global issue that affects millions of people. It occurs when individuals are forced into labour or held against their will for the purpose of exploitation. Unfortunately, modern slavery is not only prevalent in countries with weak labour laws or high poverty rates, but it also exists in developed countries, including Australia.
As a businessman or decision maker, it’s important to understand the legal liability associated with modern slavery. In this article, we will discuss what is modern slavery and the legal consequences of non-compliance. Read on.
What Is Modern Slavery?
Modern slavery encompasses various forms of exploitation, including forced labour, debt bondage, human trafficking and slavery-like practices. It can occur in any industry, including agriculture, manufacturing, construction, hospitality and domestic work. Modern slavery affects both adults and children, and its victims often work in hazardous conditions for little or no pay.
Modern Slavery and the Law
In Australia, the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) aims to prevent and address modern slavery practices in supply chains and operations. The act requires businesses with an annual revenue of $100 million or more to report their efforts to identify and address the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. It aims to promote transparency and accountability among businesses and reduce the incidence of modern slavery in Australia and globally.
Under the Modern Slavery Act in Australia, businesses are required to take the following steps:
- Prepare a Modern Slavery Statement
Businesses must prepare an annual Modern Slavery Statement that identifies the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. It should detail the steps they have taken to assess and address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains. The statement must also include information, such as the business’s structure and operations, modern slavery risks identified, actions taken to address those risks and the effectiveness of those actions. The statement must also be published on the business’s website and be accessible to the public.
- Conduct Due Diligence
Businesses must conduct due diligence, which includes assessing the risks of modern slavery, engaging with suppliers to understand their practices and taking action to address identified risks. Due diligence should be ongoing and reviewed regularly to ensure risks are identified and addressed in a timely manner.
- Develop and Implement a Modern Slavery Policy
Businesses must develop and implement a policy that outlines their commitment to addressing modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains. The policy should include measures to prevent and address modern slavery, as well as guidance on how employees and suppliers can report potential instances of modern slavery.
- Provide Training
Businesses must also provide training to their employees on modern slavery risks and how to identify and report potential instances of modern slavery. This includes training for employees involved in procurement, supply chain management and other relevant roles.
- Seek Approval
The Modern Slavery Statement must be approved by a board member or a senior executive of the company. This ensures that the business’s commitment to addressing modern slavery risks is embedded in its governance and management processes. Once approved, the statement must be published on the business’s website and updated annually.
Legal Liability for Non-Compliance
Businesses that fail to comply with the Modern Slavery Act can face legal and reputational consequences. The Australian government can issue fines or seek injunctions against non-compliant businesses. The maximum penalty for failing to prepare a Modern Slavery Statement or providing false or misleading information in the statement is $1.1 million.
Additionally, businesses can face reputational damage if they are found to be associated with modern slavery practices. This can lead to a loss of trust and credibility among customers, investors and other stakeholders, which can have long-term negative effects on the business.
In addition to the Modern Slavery Act, businesses can face legal liability under other Australian laws, such as the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The Criminal Code Act prohibits slavery, sexual servitude, forced labour and deceptive recruiting practices. The penalties for non-compliance can include fines and imprisonment for individuals involved in the offenses.
Similarly, the Fair Work Act prohibits employers from engaging in any conduct that amounts to modern slavery. This includes underpaying workers, withholding wages and forcing employees to work in unsafe conditions. Businesses found in breach of this Act can face penalties of up to $630,000 per breach.
To avoid legal liability and reputational damage, businesses must take the necessary steps mentioned above to comply with the Modern Slavery Act and other relevant laws. Getting the help of lawyers can also assist businesses in complying with modern slavery laws and reducing legal risks.
How Madison Marcus Can Help You
Modern slavery is a serious issue that affects millions of people globally. As a businessman or decision maker, you need to understand the legal liability associated with modern slavery and take steps to address the risks in your business operations and supply chains. By working with lawyers and implementing best practices, you can reduce your legal risks and contribute to a world free of modern slavery.
Lawyers can play an important role in helping businesses comply with modern slavery laws and reduce legal risks. A lawyer can assist with:
- Conducting a risk assessment to identify modern slavery risks in your operations and supply chains
- Developing policies and procedures to address modern slavery risks
- Drafting and publishing a Modern Slavery Statement
- Providing training to employees on modern slavery and human rights
- Advising on legal compliance and liability
If you’re concerned about modern slavery risks in your business or supply chain, Madison Marcus can help. Our experienced team of lawyers can assist you with all aspects of modern slavery compliance, including developing policies, conducting due diligence and preparing your Modern Slavery Statement. Don’t wait until it’s too late – take action now to protect your business and promote ethical and responsible practices.
For all enquiries, contact us here.