What is modern slavery and how does it affect my business?

By CCIWA Editor 

Modern slavery may seem like a third-world concept, but as CCIWA Senior Associate Daniel Vivian explains, its implications apply to businesses of all sizes in Australia. 


In 2018, the Australian Federal Government enacted the Modern Slavery Act 2018. 

The Act is designed to require entities that earn more than $100 million in revenue to report to the Government about the risks of modern slavery within their operations and supply chains and what actions they are taking to address those risks. 

While the $100m revenue threshold means that most businesses in Australia do not need to prepare reports to address the risks of modern slavery, businesses within the supply chains of larger organisations still need to be aware of the Act and the risks of modern slavery, particularly smaller busineses that use international networks to supply materials or labour. 

What is modern slavery? 

The definition of ‘modern slavery’ in the Act is highly technical, but in layman’s terms modern slavery is where a person uses coercion, threats or deception to exploit victims and undermine their freedom. Some examples of modern slavery include: 

  • Human trafficking 
  • Forced labour 
  • Child labour 
  • Debt bondage 
  • Forced marriage 

The practice of human trafficking will be familiar to many in Australia, but other real-world examples include the exploitation of migrant workers in the Gulf States, sweatshop workers in India and Asia and child labourers and soldiers in parts of Africa. 

It is estimated that approximately 40.3 million people worldwide live in modern slavery. Australia is not an exception, with an estimated 1900 people living in modern slavery in industries as varied as agriculture, hospitality and construction, according to Anti-Slavery Australia. 

How does this apply to my business? 

You need to be aware of your obligations under the Act, but specifically if your business: 

  • Operates within the supply chains of large companies; and 
  • Uses materials or labour from overseas sources. 

To ensure you’re adhering to the law, it’s advised that you create a Modern Slavery Policy to ensure you comply with your obligations to your head contractor. 

This policy can include: 

  • Expressing prohibitions against the use of forced, compulsory or trafficked labour; 
  • Applying the policy to all persons working for or on behalf of your business (including agents, volunteers, external consultants and business partners);  
  • Appointing a Compliance Manager to monitor and consult with suppliers, contractors and business partners to identify risks of modern slavery practices; and 
  • Whistleblower protections to cover and encourage workers to speak out if they see or suspect modern slavery practices are occurring. 
How can we help? 

To ensure you’re complying with the Act it’s best to seek legal advice. 

Our team of lawyers at CCIWA can help you: 

  • Review your contracts to see if you need a Modern Slavery Policy; and 
  • Draft a Modern Slavery Policy. 

This will ensure your business is compliant and the practice of modern slavery is eradicated. 

Want advice on this or other commercial legal matters? Get in touch on (08) 9365 7746 or via daniel.vivian@cciwa.com. 

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