The United Nations estimates there are more than 40 million victims of modern slavery worldwide. Over half of these victims are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, in which the supply chain of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based.

This is a critical situation and both the NSW Government and Federal Government have responded.

Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW) NSW is the first Australian State to introduce legislation targeting modern slavery.

The Modern Slavery Act 2018 (NSW) (NSW Act) passed both Houses of Parliament earlier this year. The commencement date of the NSW Act has not yet been announced.

Will the NSW Act apply to your company? The NSW Act will apply to a 'commercial organisation' that supplies goods and services for profit or gain (other than a government agency of the State), and that satisfies the following criteria:

  1. has at least one employee in NSW; and
  2. has an annual turnover of A$50 million or more.

If your organisation meets both of the above criteria, then your organisation will be required to produce a "Modern Slavery Statement", outlining the steps taken to ensure that your organisation's goods and services are not a product of supply chains in which modern slavery is occurring. Generally, the Modern Slavery Statement must cover:

  1. structure, business and supply chains;
  2. internal policies, due diligence and remediation processes relating to modern slavery;
  3. key risk areas for potential modern slavery malpractice and any steps undertaken to assess and manage those risks; and
  4. employee training in respect of modern slavery.

Failing to prepare and publish a Modern Slavery Statement or providing false or misleading information could set your organisation back up to A$1.1million.

Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (Cth) The Federal Government has also introduced the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 (Cth) (Commonwealth Bill).

The Commonwealth Bill differs from the NSW Act in certain key respects:

  1. the Commonwealth Bill only applies to organisations which have a total annual turnover of A$100 million;
  2. additional requirements are proposed to be included in the Commonwealth’s "Modern Slavery Statement"; and
  3. there are no penalties imposed by the Commonwealth Bill if an organisation fails to submit a Modern Slavery Statement.

The Commonwealth Bill is currently being debated and may yet be further amended.

What should you do? If your organisation meets the above criteria for the NSW Act, you should start preparing for the Modern Slavery Statement, including mapping supply chains and creating frameworks, policies and processes which investigate and deal with incidents and areas of high risk of modern slavery within your organisation's supply chain.