Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia


It is estimated that 45 million people around the world are held in some form of slavery. While the concept of slavery may seem remote to many Australians, we often unwittingly benefit from modern slavery via the clothes we buy, the food we eat and the companies we invest in. Globalisation has generated millions of jobs over the last quarter century, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty; but it has also come at a cost. Globalisation has resulted in a demand for cheap labour and modern slavery is often hidden within a vast range of supply chains.

Workers, both in Australia and abroad, connected to us via complex and often opaque supply chains, may be working in horrific exploitative conditions. ‘Modern slavery’ is a recent term popularized to refer to oppressive practices including human trafficking, forced labor (work which people are forced to do against their will under threat of punishment), debt bondage and slavery.

The Australian government is conducting an inquiry into whether Australia should adopt laws to outlaw modern slavery whether it occurs on Australian soil or abroad. Such a law could require companies to map their supply chains, determine what risks workers in the chain are exposed to and potentially make them liable for conducting business in such circumstances. Modern slavery legislation is exactly what is required in order for Australian companies to accept that the goods that they ultimately sell are not produced in a vacuum. We cannot simply avert our eyes from the oppressive working conditions that exist for many workers both in Australia and overseas and an Australian Modern Slavery Act will help in improving the lives of many workers.

Justine Nolan and Jo Ford