Larger Australian companies must outline any potential links to forced labour in their supply chains.(Reuters)
Human rights groups are urging the federal government to take a tougher stance against modern slavery, warning of widespread abuse in Australia and abroad.
- The two-year investigation looked at disclosure statements from 102 Australian companies
- Many firms with supply-chain links to forced labour failed to meet basic reporting obligations
- The federal government has pledged $4.4 million over five years to investigate Australian links to modern slavery
An investigation led by the Human Rights Law Centre has found most Australian companies with known supply-chain links to forced labour are not meeting the basic reporting obligations.
The investigation, assisted by RMIT University and the University of Notre Dame, looked at the disclosure statements of 102 Australian healthcare, clothing, horticulture, and seafood companies.
Businesses with a consolidated revenue of at least $100 million must publish an annual statement outlining any potential links to forced labour in their supply chains and what work they are doing to avoid them.
“Over half of the companies that we reviewed failed to disclose obvious modern slavery risks in their high-risk supply chains,” Freya Dinshaw, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said.
“We’re talking about clothing from China, rubber gloves from Malaysia, seafood from China, and fresh produce from here in Australia.”
Ms Dinshaw said less than a third of Australian companies surveyed appeared to be taking effective action to mitigate the risks.
“It is increasingly apparent that reporting alone is not going to be enough to drive fundamental change in supply chains,” Ms Dinshaw said.
Last year, the federal government announced $4.4 million in funding over five years to help civil society groups investigate Australian links to modern slavery.
Migrant workers too scared to quit
One migrant worker in Australia, Kate, told the ABC she earned just $25 dollars a day, despite working a gruelling 12-hour shift on a fruit farm.
Kate was one of many workers too scared to quit their job despite facing poor conditions because their visa status was linked to their employment.
Kate does not want her last name published because she is worried that speaking to the media may affect her current employment status.
“I was picking oranges and it’s a very hard job — very physical and [it] makes you very tired,” she told the ABC.
Kate said her employer was often late paying her and once withheld $500 she believed she was owed.
She also said she was harassed by that same boss.
“He said ‘Oh, don’t worry. You’ve been picking oranges all day and you are very tired. You need a massage.’
“I said ‘No, I don’t need that. I just need work. Don’t touch me.'”
Kate said she was too scared to quit at the time and it was difficult to find work with border closures.
“I need money and I am trying to survive. I need to pay rent,” she said.
‘We need to fight to see doctors’
A migrant worker in a Malaysian factory producing medical gloves told the ABC his colleagues could face deportation if they refused to work while they were sick.
Hassan, who also did not want to his last name published, said the pandemic increased demand and led to 14-hour working days.
“They treat us very badly and we need to fight to see doctors,” Hassan told the ABC.
Hassan said some of his colleagues who were sick during the pandemic hid inside their rooms to avoid going to work.
“Our bosses come to our rooms. They catch us. They bring us to our workstations,” he said.
“We have to go there. We have to work.”
Both Hassan and Kate’s comments to the ABC have been corroborated by the Human Rights Law Centre.