Uniting Church welcomes proposed laws to end modern slavery

The Uniting Church has welcomed the federal government’s proposal to introduce new legislation to combat modern slavery.

According to the International Labour Organisation, an estimated 21 million people worldwide are trapped in forced labour. More than half of the documented cases occur in the Asia-Pacific region.

Minister for Justice Michael Keenan announced on Wednesday that the government will introduce legislation that requires large Australian companies to report on how they are addressing modern slavery in their supply chains.

A large company is defined as a business with an annual turnover of at least $100 million. Under the proposed laws, they will need to publish a ‘Modern Slavery Statement’ on their website every year. The statements will also be available on a publicly accessible central repository.

Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the synod’s Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit, welcomed the government’s proposal.

“The government’s announcement on greater transparency around large companies’ efforts to curb slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains is a very welcome step forward,” Dr Zirnsak said.

“Members of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania can take significant credit for this outcome, with the campaign they have been involved with since 2011 when the JIM unit launched the campaign through the release of the Unshackling the Laws Against Slavery report.”

The JIM unit has worked with other civil society partners to expose cases of forced labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton plantations, Thailand’s seafood industry and global palm oil production.

Earlier this year, they made a joint submission to a parliamentary inquiry, calling on the government to create legislation to improve supply chain transparency.

“While the new laws will be a step forward, the JIM unit will continue with its engagement with businesses to ensure that people in developing countries that make the goods and services we buy have decent jobs,” Dr Zirnsak said.

“Church members will still be invited to join campaigns to end slavery, forced labour and human trafficking in supply chains of companies operating in Australia.”

The government will finalise the proposed reporting model following consultations with the business community and civil society organisations.

The Minister for Justice is expected to bring forward a draft legislation in the first half of 2018.

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