Federal government procurement will be covered by incoming legislation aimed at forcing companies to look into their supply chains for links to modern slavery and report on what they find.
Rather than require each federal agency to report individually, the government plans to publish a single consolidated statement each year on behalf of the entire Australian Public Service.
“This underlines the government’s commitment to leading by example in the fight against modern slavery,” argues Alex Hawke, the Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, in a post-budget update.
“Commonwealth corporations and Commonwealth companies not covered by the Commonwealth Procurement Rules will publish separate Modern Slavery Statements,” according to a related fact sheet on the legislation, which is expected to be introduced by mid-year.
The Turnbull government has previously committed to getting a “world-leading” Modern Slavery Act through parliament before the year is out, but it wasn’t clear how the supply-chain reporting rules would apply to public sector agencies.
The Attorney-General’s Department, which was responsible for the consultations until Home Affairs took over, had initially suggested the legislation did not need to cover federal agencies and that a new procurement policy on human rights might be sufficient. The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade was convinced otherwise in its inquiry, and proposed extremely broad coverage among its 49 recommendations:
“The Committee recommends that the Australian Government define entities that will be subject to the mandatory supply chain reporting requirement broadly to include, but not be limited to: companies; businesses; organisations (including religious bodies); Commonwealth government agencies and public bodies; the Australian Government; bodies corporate; unincorporated associations or bodies of persons; sole traders; partnerships; trusts; superannuation funds; and approved deposit funds.”
Hawke says organisations covered by the new rules, which include foreign entities doing business in Australia, will have to report within six months of the end of their financial year. The fact sheet explains they must include information on “their structure, operations and supply chains; potential modern slavery risks; actions taken to address these risks; and how they assess the effectiveness of their actions” under the proposed rules.
Last week’s budget also includes a plan to spend $3.6 million on setting up and running a new “Anti-Slavery Business Engagement Unit” in Home Affairs. Its role will be to assist organisations to comply, promote best practice, run “awareness raising and training” activities and administer a single public repository for the modern slavery reports.
“The Department of Home Affairs will also award $500,000 in funding over 2018-19 to support specialist civil society organisations working to prevent and address modern slavery,” according to Hawke’s statement.
“This funding will build on more than $5 million in funding awarded to anti-slavery non-government organisations since 2008.”