On 3 November 2023, the Federal Government introduced the Modern Slavery Amendment (Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner) Bill 2023 into Parliament establishing Australia’s first federal Anti-Modern Slavery Commissioner. This milestone event was, of course, expected as it was part of the Government’s policy platform going into the 2022 federal election, and $8 million establishing an Anti-Modern Commissioner was committed in this year’s federal budget and forward estimates.

The Bill amends the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) and establishes the Commissioner as an independent office holder within the Attorney-General’s portfolio. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill reflects that modern slavery practices are major violations of human rights, modern slavery is becoming more prevalent globally, and Australian businesses are being exposed to modern slavery risks.

The Commissioner will be independent but will work with Government, civil society, and businesses to support compliance with the Act, improve transparency of supply chains, and fight modern slavery in Australia and overseas. The Commissioner will not, however, have investigative or coercive powers to compel individuals to provide information into complaints or allegations – this is the responsibility of law enforcement agencies with which the Commissioner will work.

The Bill encompasses a number of human rights and freedoms including:

  1. the right to freedom from slavery and forced labour contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, article 8)
  2. the right to freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (ICCPR, article 7)
  3. the right of protection from exploitation, violence and abuse (ICCPR, article 20, Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 19), and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (article 16), and
  4. the right to work and just and favourable conditions of work in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights(articles 6 and 7).

The Bill prescribes other functions including the development of a strategic plan for the Commission and annual reporting. It is likely that the Commission will consult with stakeholders when developing the strategic plan, or implementing initiatives that arise from it. The National Retail Association will engage with these consultations as they occur, to ensure the Commissioner is fully cognisant of the importance the Association, its members, and the wider retail sector place on combatting modern slavery.

For more information on this or other ESG matters, please contact Geoffrey Annison (g.annison@nationalretail.org.au), National Retail’s ESG Policy Consultant.