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Australian Report Shows Companies Failing to Consider Risks of Slavery

FILE - A man gestures to his dog as fog drifts through the buildings in Sydney's central business district, Australia, June 11, 2021.

Australian businesses may be using slave or coerced labor in overseas and local supply chains, according to a business group’s new survey of 150 major companies. The survey found serious lapses in the way many corporations comply with Australia's anti-slavery laws.

The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, a financial industry group, said in a report this week that about a third of companies on Australia's main stock market index do not seem to be complying with Australian anti-slavery legislation.

The study said some businesses were “potentially non-compliant” while others were doing the bare minimum.

Australia’s Modern Slavery Act of 2018 requires organizations, including companies, hospitals and universities, with annual revenue over $73 million to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, both at home and overseas, including use of child labor.

The study has said, though, that many organizations are “poorly prepared to respond to modern slavery incidents.”

Jennifer Burn, who heads the research body Anti-Slavery Australia, said the law makes it clear what is expected of organizations.

“There are key criteria that require them to describe the risk of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains to identify where there is the potential of a risk of modern slavery, and then they have to describe the actions taken to address that risk,” she said. “So, what happens if an instance of modern slavery is reported? How do they support a victim of modern slavery and should that victim be provided with any form of assistance, including the possibility of financial compensation?”

However, the report shows that companies in the finance, food and beverage sectors had the best record of reporting.

The International Labor Organization and human rights activists have estimated there are 15,000 people being kept in slavelike conditions in Australia, including workers in factories and cafes, those working as cleaners, as well individuals in forced marriages. Other campaigners say they believe the exact number “is probably much higher.”

The Australian government has described modern slavery as “an invisible crime.”

The Australian Institute of Criminology has reported that only 1 in 5 victims is ever identified.