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Large retailers will be required to report on modern slavery

Australian businesses turning over $100 million or more annually will be forced to produce annual reports detailing their efforts to address modern slavery under a new policy announced by the Turnbull Government on Wednesday.

More than 3,000 large Australian corporations, including retailers, will be subjected to the new regulations which will be introduced to Parliament by mid-2018.

Businesses will be required to report on their structure, operations and supply chains; potential modern slavery risks; actions taken to address those risks; and the way effectiveness is measured.

Reports will be required to address slavery, trafficking in persons, servitude, forced labour and forced marriage.

Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, Alex Hawke, said that the legislation will send a clear message to the business community that modern slavery will not be tolerated.

“Modern slavery thrives in the shadows of global supply chains and involves serious crimes and human rights abuses,” Hawke said.

“It is a significant risk for Australian businesses as it undermines their competitiveness and can have substantial legal and reputational.”

Reporting entities will need to publish Modern Slavery statements within six months of the end of their financial year.

The announcement comes after a lengthy consultation period and an inquiry that was supported by prominent retailers including Woolworths and Wesfarmers.

Wesfarmers produced a Modern Slavery statement under UK regulation last year, which outlined its commitment to opposing slavery.

“At Wesfarmers we acknowledge our role and responsibility in seeking to safeguard human rights through ethical and sustainable business practices,” it said.

The legislation has in-principle bipartisan support.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said that the legislation will apply an appropriate light touch to work already being done in the area of modern slavery by large retailers.

“Many of the big retailers have this in place already, he said. “I hope the opposition supports this.”

$3.6 million as provisioned in the budget for a new Anti-Slavery Business Engagement Unit, which will be set up in the Department of Home Affairs to manage the Modern Slavery Statements.

The Department will also award $500,000 in funding over 2018-19 to specialist civil society organisations working to prevent and address modern slavery.

Foreign entities carrying on a business in Australia will also be subjected to the reporting requirements.

If passed the legislation will be reviewed three years after it takes effect.

More to come.

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