Human Rights in the Supply Chain of Australian Businesses: Opportunities for Legislative Reform

by Brynn O'Brien and Martijn Boersma

Australian businesses have recently been implicated in serious labour abuses, both within and beyond Australia’s borders. Recent examples to capture public attention are slave labour in the production of surf products by Australian brands in North Korea, human trafficking and labour exploitation in Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai fishing industries (the top suppliers of prawns to Australian retailers) and labour abuses in domestic fresh food supply chains and 7-Eleven stores.
In response to concerns about labour abuses and human rights violations in supply chains, a multi-stakeholder Working Group on Slavery in Supply Chains (Working Group), involving of representatives from government, civil society, industry and academia, was established in 2014 by Justice Minister the Hon Michael Keenan MP, following a Parliamentary Inquiry into Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking that commenced in 2012.
After an intensive program involving over 12 months of meetings, the Working Group has now been dissolved. Despite promises of swift consideration of the Working Group’s efforts by the responsible Minister, the comprehensive report and recommendations remain confidential and had not been put to the Minister at the time of writing. Given the time, effort and expense invested by participants in the Working Group, the lack of government action is disappointing.

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